Another great read from the library
April 30, 2009
A 4-year-old girl waits alone on a dock in Australia for parents who never come. Her only possession is a tiny white suitcase containing no information about who she is or how she came to be abandoned.
Nell is a foundling, and what a rare foundling she is. A stow-away on an ocean liner, she refuses to tell even so much as her name. Until in her 60s, she has no clue how she came to be alone on that dock. Hers is the mystery that unfolds in this long novel spanning more than a century, five generations and two distant continents.
Morton tells her story not only through the actions of her characters but also through fairytales that work on several levels and provide clues to the mystery’s final solution. She has constructed a generation-spanning chronicle of three women. First is a Victorian fairytale author named Eliza Makepeace. Her tale is almost Dickensian. Born of a rich woman and a seaman, she is left to an evil couple after the father has run off and the mother dies of consumption. The well-to-do relatives finally turn up and take her to their Cornwall estate.
Second is Nell Andrews, the perplexing abandoned child. When the ship reaches its Queensland, Australia, destination, she is found by the harbormaster and raised by him and his wife. In 1975, prompted by the contents of the small white suitcase that was found with her on the dock ” notably, a beautifully illustrated book of fairytales by Eliza Makepeace ” she sets out to solve the conundrum of her true origins. She ends up in Cornwall.
Third is Cassandra, Nell’s granddaughter. After being dumped with her grandmother, Cassandra grows up with Nell, shares her work at the antiques stall, and in 2005 keeps a vigil at her grandmother’s deathbed. When Cassandra discovers that she has inherited a cottage in Cornwall, she in turn goes to England to play detective.
Overall this is a highly satisfying read. It’s fun to watch the author weave the lives of women into a rich tapestry of life and love, anger and betrayal. And if it’s atmospheric entertainment you want, this is a knockout. Morton, like her heroine Eliza, has the storyteller’s touch. Despite its length, it’s suspenseful enough to keep you coming back for just one more chapter before you turn out the light.