The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton is set up as a novel told by several different people. The first point of view introduced is that of Nell who has been abandoned on a ship from Australia to London. While on the ship she suffers from a head injury and loses her memory ending up alone in Australia. A family takes her in as their own and does not tell her she is part of the family until her 18th birthday. The rest of the story is explaining how she got on that ship and why by herself, her granddaughter who is searching for answers, and her mother. It has four different time periods covered throughout these characters. The major theme of the book is confronting the past. Nell spends most of her life trying to come to terms with the fact that she does not know who her real family is. When she finds out she breaks off an engagement and alienates her family. She loses all real relationships and never feels completely satisfied with her life. She marries and has a daughter but does not have a great relationship with her and when she grows up and moves out Nell travels across the world to London to search for clues. When her daughter leaves Cassandra, her granddaughter, with her she is forced to abandon her mission when it seems that she will find the answer. She cares for Cassandra for the rest of her life and when she passes away, Cassandra takes over the search. Cassandra sees it as a way to prove her love to Nell one last time. The search takes her all throughout England and has many twists in it that in the end lead to the answer.
The characters are all trying to find themselves searching through the past. For Nell this means that she will abandon the life she has. For Cassandra it is a way to build a new life. Uncovering the mystery is less about what the answer actually is and more about what it means to know who you are and where you come from. Nell feels she cannot go on living the lie that she has been raised in even though it was a happy life. Without knowing where you came from you cannot know where you will go.
- Is it more important to know the past or build a future?
- Is it possible to escape the past, or does one's history always find a way to revisit the present?
- How might Nell's life have turned out differently if she had not known the truth?