The Forgotten Garden is a sprawling narrative transcending traditional time barriers. It follows three women at the same time—Eliza, from the very-late 1800s to the truly-early1900s; Nell during the mid-to-late 1900s; and Cassandra in the current day. The plot itself is concerned with solving Nell's identity, yet the crucial character is Eliza, who has all the answers, and then it is Cassandra who is piecing it all together. The author, Kate Morton, starts the tangled affair brightly enough. Though the mystery is slightly contrived, it seems interesting, with narration dancing between each characters' time. But then it gets muddled and unnecessarily complicated, with too many characters interrupting the already-struggling action. The plot becomes tired and the answers obvious and, by the end of it, you wonder why it mattered at all.
Worst of all was the amount of characters that didn't matter—acquaintances that were crucial for only a page yet kept popping up, or those that didn't matter at all yet wouldn't leave the narrative alone. There were implications never answered, allusions never met, assumptions never justified. Most of the characters made no sense at all—the aunt, the brother of Eliza, the emphasis put in the beginning on "the bad man" that never came up again; the doctor, most of the servants, and then that convenient romance between the gardener and Cassandra. There were dozens of stock characters you were expected to keep track of that never actually played any important part. And then the characters and their actions never seemed to match up. Relationships fell apart too easily and started up too quickly; characteristics changed drastically and inexplicably. And the garden itself as a character was too cliche. Morton seemed determined, desperate to make it the heart of the story. Only she failed. It had no magic; it was just a setting. The one twist I cared about was the creepy uncle, and that went absolutely nowhere.
The novel was thick in every sense of the word: it was long, often dragging, sometimes pretentious, with weighty topics too easily ignored or quickly shrugged away. Morton tried so hard to develop her characters thoroughly and that meant years—chapters—trudging through random experiences that never amount to anything. It was entertaining early on, yet the answers came on too easily and suddenly and…unimportantly so that, by the end, I wasn’t only disappointed, I was bored. It all became too trite: the fairytales, the trinkets, the seascape and detailed landscapes. It is looking back that you realize what a waste most of the novel is. Morton was too concerned with romanticizing the plot, hoping to capture us in vivid detail and sweeping vistas. The entire story suffered because of it. It straggled, dragging the weight of its own unimportance with it.
It struggled to be grandiose but fell flat by the end. And the more I think about it, the less worth-it it becomes. Yet there were moments. I'll give it 2/5.