Book Review of The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden
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Helpful Score: 1

I enjoyed this book. The author pulled me into it and did not let go throughout, even after it was clear to me what the answer to the 'mystery' was. I kept sneaking just one more chapter before I left for work or in bed at night, and I stayed up last night fairly late just to finish it. So clearly, the author succeeded in making me like this book.

The author's plotting (strategy? gimmick?) is to have the reader jumping back and forth through time, between the grown granddaughter's narrative, the grandmother's narrative, the faity tale author's narrative and the child's narrative. I thought it was a little choppy at first, but stick it out and you will become comfortable with these leaps. I enjoyed how an event in the past would be viewed one way, and then when the same event was told in the present tense by someone else, the reader would see how the event was not at all what it seemed. The author also inserts a few of the fairy tales throughout the book, and this is a pleasant diversion. The characters are interesting - it seems that no matter how minor a character is, they have a back story, which creates a really layered experience. Altogether I would group this book with "The Thirteenth Tale" and maybe even with "Shadow of the Wind." If you enjoyed either of those books, you will probably like this one too.

However, the mystery is pretty hokey. Nell's parentage was clear to me from about halfway through the book, and I do not think I am especially clever.(There is a spoiler at the end of this review so stop reading after this paragraph if you haven't read the book.) And I think the author packed it a little too full of eccentric behavior - Did Linus really need to have a limp? Did the kids really need to play "The Ripper"? Who was the ghost with the key in the door? Did Eliza really need to have a skill at catching rats? Did Ruby really need to have an abortion in her backstory? Did Davies have to be a recluse? What exactly was the point of having Francis Hodgson Burnett in the story (I know, "The Secret Garden" and all that, but was this really necessary in a book already jam-packed?) But the thing that bothered me the most was Cassandra's tragic backstory of her husband and son - was that really necessary? Still, despite my quibbling, I enjoyed this book tremendously.


It seemed pretty obvious to me that Eliza was Nell's mother, but my initial theory was that Walker had fathered two kids - one by his wife and one by Eliza, and they were switched because Rose's daughter died at birth. Wasn't Nell hair supposed to be red, and Rose was always described as a dark beauty and Walker had brown curls, so where did Nell's red hair come from if not from Georgiana and Eliza? I also thought that Walker and Eliza had some great love affair which was not actually true, although there was an indication of a spark. I also could not figure out where Eliza had gone. So while I figured out part of it, the author managed to keep me guessing. I still do not think that Cassandra had to have a son who died - a husband who died would have gotten us to the same point plotwise, and frankly, that seemed a little over the top pathos-wise.