Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Three women, Eliza, Nell, and Cassandra, of different generations, are on a journey of discovery. Each travels to a cottage on the Blackhurst Manor estate in Cornwall. Eliza is plucked from a Dickensian childhood in the late 1800s to her rightful home at Blackhurst, where her mother was the apple of her brother's eye. Eliza becomes the companion of Rose Mountrachet at the manor, but retires to the cottage when her role as Rose's confidante is filled by Rose's new husband. Eliza is known as the Authoress, writing fairy tales that stem from the experiences of her own rags-to-almost-riches life. Nell is a child in the first chapter of the book, abandoned by the Authoress on a ship bound for Australia. On her 21st birthday, the man who raised her tells her that he is not her father and that he knows nothing about Nell's real family. This revelation sets Nell on a quest to discover her roots and the reason for her solo voyage long ago, armed just with a first edition of Eliza's collection of fairy tales that was in her suitcase on the ship. While in England, she recognizes Rose's portrait as that of her mother and proceeds to buy Eliza's cottage, with the full intention of moving there from Australia. However, an abandoned child comes into her own life—her granddaughter Cassandra. When Nell dies, leaving her the cottage, Cassandra, too, travels to Cornwall and finds that restoring the garden at the cottage helps restore her own life, providing a distraction from the well of grief that she has sunken into. This novel is sort of a braid of these three women's lives that Morton unwinds for us, just as Cassandra untangles the overgrowth and the secrets of the cottage. The book is slightly confusing, in that it is difficult to keep up with each woman's progress in fitting together the pieces of the puzzle, but it doesn't really matter who is unraveling what. Fortunately for the reader, Morton heads up each chapter with an approximate date, so that we at least know whose story we are about to resume. This book reminds me of A. S. Byatt's Possession, one of my all-time favorites, but with occasional fairy tales, rather than poems, interspersed throughout the book.

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