In 1913, a small British girl is discovered on the dock in Brisbane, Australia, with only a small suitcase. Inside it lies a beautifully illustrated book of fairy tales. Alone, possibly abandoned, the girl waits for - whom? She's adopted by the kind dockmaster and his wife, but her origins will prove a puzzling mystery for her adult self and, later, her granddaughter.
Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden - which I read before I went on vacation and somehow managed to miss writing about - was on Amazon's list of the best fiction so far this year, and I'd heard it recommended from a couple of reliable sources (thank you, Sue Corbett, the Herald's kids' book critic!). This is a big, rich, old-fashioned generational tale full of sorrow and wonder and domestic adventure, with nods to Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, that childhood friend we loved so dearly (Frances herself makes an appearance in Morton's novel).
I have never really been a fan of fairytales and was disturbed when I came across the first one in the book. But Morton, also author of the novel The House at Riverton, wasn't able to put me off even when she was writing about ancient crones and spells and princesses, fodder usually guaranteed to send me running for the nearest violent crime fiction.
In other words, The Forgotten Garden isn't necessarily my sort of book, and yet I liked it nonetheless. It's too early to tell if I think it's one of the best books of the year, but it's compelling and rewarding and romantic, and it has some of the most beautiful endpapers I've ever seen in a novel. It's the perfect book to immerse yourself in if you want something with depth that won't bog you down. My guess is that if you try it, this Garden will definitely grow on you.