This is an enjoyable escapist work about family relationships and secrets, and I had a great time with it (particularly when stressed or tired, as it is essentially comfort reading). The novel follows three women in different time periods. Nell is found on a dock in Australia as a 4-year-old in 1913, grows up without knowing her true heritage, and as an older woman returns to England to search for the truth. But she is sidetracked by the need to raise her granddaughter Cassandra, who picks up the search after Nell’s death at the beginning of the book. The key to the mystery is Eliza, an author of fairy tales who apparently abandoned Nell on a ship many years before.
Morton is a master of plot, and kept me engaged throughout and just one step ahead of the characters in unraveling the mystery – which is exactly where I want to be as a reader; puzzles I’m not given enough clues to solve or, alternatively, have figured out hundreds of pages in advance are frustrating. This one is fun, doling out information at exactly the right pace. It even kept me interested through the included fairy tales, which are actually good.
In a way, the whole book is a fairy tale, though without magic; the characters are drawn with a broad brush (Eliza is the only one of the three protagonists who proves at all interesting), there are convenient coincidences and high drama, but in context it all works. Still, some character decisions aren’t quite satisfying; I have a hard time believing Nell’s throwing her life away on learning that she was adopted, and Eliza makes some very ill-considered choices.
This is not a great literary work, but it is well-written enough that no flaws distracted from my enjoyment of the story. Those who go into it looking for absorbing light reading are unlikely to be disappointed.