The Forgotten Room
The Forgotten Room is one of those books that starts with a pretty cool concept. We get to follow three heroines who each face a pivotal point in their lives and who face it, at least in part, in the same setting. In this way, readers get to see bits and pieces of a family’s history as well as the history of a once-great house. Perhaps naturally, I found some parts of the story more interesting than others, but even though the book read a bit unevenly for me, I enjoyed it.
So, who are our three heroines? Well, the first we meet is Kate Schuyler, a WWII doctor at Stornaway, a military hospital housed in what was once a great New York mansion. As the story opens, Kate finds herself face to face with the injured and gravely ill Cooper Ravenel. Something about this South Carolina officer touches Kate immediately, and despite the hostility of her supervising doctor, she is determined to save his leg.
Interspersed with Kate’s story, we also get the tales of Olive Van Alan, a maid living and working in Pratt Mansion in the 1890s, and Lucy Young, a legal secretary in 1920s New York, who lives in a boarding house located in what was once the fabulous Pratt Mansion. I won’t spoil the storyline here, but readers will figure out pretty quickly that not only do their stories center at least partially on the same house, but the three women are connected in various ways. And then there’s the St. George mural and the mysterious room at the top of the house….
In the earliest-set storyline of the book, Olive has come to the Pratts bent on revenge for the ruin and death of her beloved father. However, along the way, she finds herself unexpectedly falling in love with one of the sons of the house. Given the class structure of the time as well as Olive’s history with the family, there are obvious tensions. The authors do a good job of telling the story, though, and I enjoyed seeing it unwind alongside the other stories in the novel. One can see how Olive’s story turns out, but more importantly, how it has far-reaching consequences reaching decades into the future.
While the chapters jump back and forth between the 1890s, 1920s and 1940s, the book never feels disjointed. Even hopping from story to story, somehow the entire narrative manages to flow. Each of the heroines has some romance in her life and faces a major turning point, so the tales mirror each other somewhat. I will admit that I personally found Kate Schuyler’s struggles as a doctor and her attachment to Cooper Ravenel the most endearing of the three, but I also enjoyed getting to know Olive and Lucy.
While the three storylines all share some commonalities, they’re certainly not identical in every way. In the novel, as in life, some characters’ lives turn out more happily than others. While The Forgotten Room is often romantic, not every storyline would qualify as a genre romance by today’s standards. I hope that does not put off readers, though, because the book is overall quite engaging and as a reader, I greatly enjoyed figuring things out and putting the pieces of story together like a puzzle to reveal the greater whole.
The characters in this novel did not stand out very strongly for me as individuals; the book felt more plot-driven instead. Since most of the real drama takes place with Olive and with Kate, Lucy’s story sometimes felt a bit slow for me. However, even with that issue, The Forgotten Room is a wonderful collaboration and well worth reading, particularly if you like your historical fiction generously seasoned with romance.