Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I read "The Forgotten Garden" for book club last month. In summary it did not appeal to me, but one reason I am in this club is to expand my reading horizons, so I read it. Ever since then I have been trying to figure out exactly why I dislike the book. It was intriguing, well written, with deep characters. Today it came to me, this book is broken.

Just for background, there are 4 types of stories, according to Dr. DeMille.
1. Bent
2. Broken
3. Whole
4. Healing

Bent stories portray evil as good and good as evil, so basically these are never a good choice. Broken stories portray evil as evil and good as good, but evil wins. Whole stories are portrayed as good is good, evil is evil and good wins. While Healing stories can be either Whole or Broken, but what defines them is how they change the reader.

So as far as I am concerned "The Forgotten Garden" is Broken. This realization is a great relief to me for a few reasons. One I have a few good friends who love this book and usually our reading interests agree, so it's nice to know why I don't like this book and I am eager to see if my friends feel that my assessment is correct. The other reason is that this book got to be so depressing that I finished it faster than I would normally have just so I could get it over with. On the up side at least it was written well enough that it was easy to read.

My personal inclinations lean toward reading books that have some strife, but overall things end well. While the very end had a hope for the future, for all but one of the main characters there was only sorrow, or worse. I figure that life and reality is depressing enough that I don't want to spend my free fun time being depressed. So let's see if I can summarize the basics of how the main players, and thus the overall story, are Broken. (I am going to go into details that will ruin the book if you have not read it, in essence: Spoiler Alert!)

Cassandra is easily the least messed up character which is good since she is the one living in our current time and therefore would be the ideal character to relate to on a superficial level. She suffered from an selfish mother, but that seems to have been at least partly set off by the subtle love of the Grandmother who raised her. Cassandra also has the ghost of her deceased husband and young son figuratively haunting her as she struggles to forgive herself for their deaths, which by the way were not her fault, accidents happen.

Nell, Cassandra's grandmother, was found alone at age 4 on a dock in Australia with no clues as to who she was, where she came from, or even her real name. She learns of her adoption at age 21 and follows that knowledge with a complete destruction of her personal life pushing away anyone she ever felt anything for while completely shutting herself off from the world. Unhappy is a serious understatement. Near the end of her life, she begins to piece together the puzzle of where she came from, but never finds the entire truth before passing away. Seriously?

Eliza is in fact Nell's biological mother, who comes from a distressing past. Her mother in fact ran off from her wealthy home to marry a sailor, and escape her brother who clearly had incestuous feelings for her. Eliza has a twin brother who meets an accidental death around age twelve, a while after her mother has died from illness. I suppose she deals with things fairly well on some level, but attaches herself to her cousin so deeply that she is willing to do anything for her and I mean anything. Even to the point of being a surrogate and conceiving a child with her cousin's husband. Then willingly gives this child (Nell) to her cousin to raise as her own.

Now add to all this Eliza's uncle (Linus), who views his sister, niece and eventually grandniece/granddaughter inappropriately, a doctor who with Linus destroyed a young woman's chances of motherhood by performing an absurdly unnecessary medical x-ray, and various other minor players many of whom are just as goofed up. Eliza ends up dead and buried with no grave marker, while the rest of the unhappies whittle away their time being consumed with themselves.

In the end Cassandra learns the truth and discovers a hope for a new future. So I am a little torn, being that I am glad that she has new hope that she would not have found without this journey being taken, but with the sordidness of her ancestry, I have to wonder if some things are better left buried? If my history had even a tenth of the drama of hers, would I want to know? Or would it be better to forge ahead regardless of the past?

I suppose this is why it is good to read some Broken books on occasion, it sure does get you thinking.