Review: The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton

Have y’all ever seen Wonderfalls? If you haven’t, you really should. It’s basically Dead Like Me with a better premise, a better ensemble cast (absolutely no disrespect meant to Mandy Patinkin, whom I adore — it’s the dynamics between the characters that are better, really), and a stronger sense of what kind of a show it is. Where Dead Like Me gets a bit too grim, and Pushing Daisies can be a little too sweet, Wonderfalls finds the perfect balance. Naturally it’s the one of the three that ran for the shortest time. Anyway, there is this scene in Wonderfalls where the popular girl from the protagonist’s high school is talking about her husband.

Popular girl: I mean, he’s great if I was going to make a list of what I wanted in a husband. Which I did actually. Well, Robert is that list.
Random dude who’s in love with her: He’s the man of your dreams.
Popular girl: He’s the man of my list.

Since I first watched Wonderfalls in 2006, I have had occasion to make reference to this moment on many, many occasions. Mexican food is the food of Legal Sister Anna Banana’s list. Social Sister is the girl of Captain Hammer’s list. (HA HA HA, just kidding, Social Sister! I am sure you are really the girl of his dreams!) And as it happens, Kate Morton is the author of my list. She has got dual timelines; family secrets that are slowly uncovered; Victorian England and Edwardian England and England between the wars; and, in the case of The Forgotten Garden, a cameo by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

But look, I just sailed and waded (respectively) through The Hand that First Held Mine and The Children’s Book, and although I was not entirely happy with either of them, Kate Morton’s writing and plotting simply don’t compare. (Writing and plotting in the case of O’Farrell; just writing with Byatt, sorry, Byatt, I thought Possession was brilliant though) About two-thirds of the way through The House at Riverton, which was a delightful guilty pleasure with enormous mugs of Costa coffee and chocolate twists, I started being deeply annoyed by Morton’s penchant for writing all-predicate sentences (“She paused. Angled the magnifying glass to face the sun. Caught abruptly on fire.”). Man doth not live by predicates alone. This has gotten better in The Forgotten Garden; nevertheless, every time she did it, I found it maddening out of all proportion to how terrible a flaw it really is.

Leaving out my passionate bias against disregard, for the sake of dramatic effect, of perfectly reasonable rules of writing in English (I have my eye on you, Cormac McCarthy), Kate Morton and I simply do not click. The way the characters react to the events of the book does not fall into line with my reaction to the same events, so I am always finding the characters melodramatic or weirdly apathetic. You know how with some authors, they can imbue an apparently tiny event with so much emotional depth that you ache for the characters? Kate Morton is, for me, the opposite of that. Massive events in her books, with severe repercussions all around, utterly fail to move me.

And the cameo by Frances Hodgson Burnett was hamfisted. She shows up and someone tells her about the hidden garden, and she has to go see it, of course, and when they explain it’s the particular garden of an invalid girl, she says something like “A garden that helps to cure a frail little girl! How fascinating!”

Yep. It’s the book of my list.