The Sunday Salon

Last August I read The House at Riverton by Kate Morton and thought it was one of the best books I’d read in 2007. So it was with great anticipation that I started to read The Forgotten Garden. It starts off well, with a little girl in London in 1913 on a boat bound for Australia. The lady who took her to the boat has disappeared and the little girl is found alone on the Maryborough wharf, with no name and no family. All she can remember is that the name of the lady is the Authoress and she has a little white suitcase containing a book of fairy stories written by the lady.

The novel is about three women – Eliza, Nell and Cassandra and follows their lives from 1900 to 2005. Nell is the little girl in the opening chapter and the book reveals the story of her birth. Of course it’s not just as simple as that – there are several mysteries in this long book. It’s quite easy to read once you have got used to jumping from England in 1913 to Australia in 2005, and in and out of the 1930s and 1975 in both countries and back again to 2005 in England and Australia and sorting out the characters of the three women.

I was enjoying it and then I realised that I was reading a re-working of The Secret Garden, as Eliza is taken as a child of twelve to live with her aunt and uncle at Blackhurst Manor in Cornwall, just as Mary is taken to live with her uncle at Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire Moors, both houses in isolated places, both girls finding it difficult to fit into their new surroundings, both with maids who help them settle in, both with walled gardens and secrets to be discovered. Even down to both having sickly cousins who stay in their rooms.

I was so disappointed that I stopped reading the book! But I picked it up again the next day and carried on. I worked out the ‘mystery’ quite easily and found the book rather predictable, which was also disappointing. Nell attempts to find out the truth about her parents and in 1975 travels to England, eventually finding Blackhurst Manor where the Mountrachet family used to live. After her death in 2005, Cassandra her granddaughter discovers she has been left a surprise inheritance, Cliff Cottage and its forgotten garden in Cornwall, now derelict.

It wasn’t just the predictability of the story I found a let down, I also had difficulty picturing the settings and working out the locations of the cottage, its garden, the maze and Blackhurst Manor even though I re-read their descriptions several times.

I read this book whilst on my recent travels along with The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers, which I also found a bit disappointing – more about that some other time maybe. Other reading this week has been more enjoyable with The Fall of Troy by Peter Ackroyd and Wessex Tales by Thomas Hardy. I also finished reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. I first read this about 10 years ago and was a bit worried that I would find it a let down on re-reading it, but thankfully I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s the next book up for discussion on Cornflower’s Blog on 12 July. For once I’ve read the book well in advance.

I’m also re-reading The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy for the Heart of a Child Challenge. A tale of the French Revolution, a time of terror and tension as the dashing Englishman rescues French aristos destined to death by guillotine. I loved this book as a child and so far it’s living up to my expectations.

19 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon”

  1. Now, there’s one I loved as well, The Scarlet Pimpernel. And, I saw the musical, and loved it. It was the same year I saw Les Mis in New York. What a nice year for the French Revolution!

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  2. Here is my review of re-reading The Scarlet Pimpernel earlier this year. I also loved this book when I was younger.

    Re: the books you didn’t like. Sometimes that happens, but just curious, why pick it back up if you didn’t like it? I would have just skipped to the end and seen what happened. There’s too many good books in the world to waste one’s time on the bad ones, or the ones we perceive as bad, maybe I should say.

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  3. Isn’t it just so sad when you’re disappointed in a book. . . I hope the Scarlet Pimpernel is better for you. I’ve always wanted to read that.

    thanks for visiting my blog, too.

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  4. Do you know, I don’t think I’ve ever read ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’. I know the story, but I suspect that’s from some long ago BBC version of it. It’s just the sort of thing they would have serialised when I was a child. I must do something about that. I didn’t read the first Kate Morton, so I don’t know what her writing is like. But I do know the disappointment of find that someone’s second book doesn’t live up to the first one. Let’s hope she’s not a one book wonder.

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  5. I’ve read “Miss Brodie” several times over the years, and loved it every time. But I always enjoy just about anything by Muriel Spark. Such a shame she’s gone now. Your review of “The House at Riverton” makes it sound like a book I’d like – I’ll have to find a copy.

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  6. I haven’t read Kate Morton but it’s always disappointing when we love a first book by and author but not the second. I’ve never read The Scarlet Pimpernel either. I must try to rectify that at some point.

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  7. Thanks for your comments.

    Unfinished Person, I agree that there are too many good books to waste time reading ones that we perceive as bad. If I don’t like a book I don’t finish it. I don’t think The Forgotten Garden is a bad book – it was just that I was disappointed, mainly at the similarities to The Secret Garden. But that was only one part of the book and I decided it was worth carrying on to the end – and as it’s very easy reading it didn’t take long!

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  8. You’re not missing much by skipping the Twilight series, but I do think everyone should read Bram Stoker. Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian is also great, but it’s really more of a book about loving books and solving a book-related mystery that just happens to have a vampire in it than it is a vampire book.

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  9. Lol if the author was going to take so much from ‘The Secret garden’, you’d think they’d at least change the name a little… it would have been at least more difficult for the audience to make a connection. ‘The Forgotten Garden’ immediately brings ‘The Secret Garden’ to mind.

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  10. Sorry to hear the Morton book was a bit of a let down–especially as I just ordered it from the UK last week! Still, it might be an entertaining read as I never did read The Secret Garden, so I won’t have the story in my mind whilst reading. I read The Scarlet Pimpernel earlier this year for the first time and enjoyed it immensely!

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  11. Rebecca, I’d forgotten I’d read The Historian, which I did enjoy even with the vampire element.

    Kathleen, I agree about the title, but as I’d recently re-read The Secret Garden the similarities were so obvious I couldn’t have missed them!

    Danielle, if you haven’t read The Secret Garden I think you’ll enjoy this book.

    Les I’m glad I haven’t put you off reading it – if it hadn’t been for the similarities to The Secret Garden I’d probably have loved this book.

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  12. I was surprised to read your review of the Forgotton garden. I have read both Kate Morton books and found both to be very captivating. I dont think it was anything like the secret garden at all and the storyline is totally different. I dont think anyone should be put off reading this lovely, well written book and I look forward to Kate’s next book.

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  13. Why do you care what other people have to say about a book? Everyone has different opinion and taste for books. I never listen to other people’s comments and do not share my thoughts about the book with anybody. That way I don’t get disappointed and I don’t disappoint others.

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