Flowers in the Attic
Author: V.C. Andrews
Series: Dollanganger, #1
Length: 15 hours
Narrator: Mena Suvari
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Original Publication Date: 1979
The Dollangangers are a beautiful, happy family, just as normal as any other family. There’s Cathy, her older brother Chris, and the two younger twins Carrie and Cory. But when a surprise party for the father has a horrific end, the children, along with their mother, must escape in the night. The children wind up hiding in an attic—just for a night or two, says their mother, just until she can learn to type and maybe work her way back into her father’s will. Then they’ll be rich! But nights turn into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. And an attic is no place to grow up.
Because this book was written in 1979, I feel that I don’t really need to hold back on spoilers. If you were looking for my usual spoiler-free review, I’m really sorry!
I’ve been meaning to read Flowers in the Attic for a long time. I heard so much about it in college, but never got around to reading it. All I knew about it was what I was told by fellow students: four siblings are locked in an attic, and the brother and sister fall in love. Let me tell you, those of you who still haven’t read this novel: THAT IS NOT AT ALL HOW IT GOES. Like, okay, yes, the kids are stuck in an attic, and the brother and sister do start to feel things for one another, but it’s much more complicated than that, and not so plain as “it’s a book about incest”, which is all most people tend to say. It’s much, much more.
The book opens with a prologue from our narrator: she is a real person who went through these experiences and is older now, writing this down later in life, recording everything that happened to her as a child. The narrator claims she will use fake names and places, but the story is real. Flowers in the Attic is told in first-person POV from Cathy’s perspective, our main character, our narrator. It’s broken up into 2 parts. Very briefly, Cathy describes her life before her father’s death. The rest of part 1 is the journey to the grandparents’ home, and the first year in the attic. Part 1 is definitely sad, and awful, and hard to read. But Part 2 really takes a turn for the worst, as the next 2 years in the attic are far, far worse. And I didn’t think it could get any worse.
This was such an interesting book to read, especially given our current circumstances: isolated in our homes due to a global pandemic. It’s a nice reminder that, although times are hard, at least we’re not being tortured in an attic somewhere. Really, though, it’s interesting because of the characters, and how being trapped in the attic during their coming of age affects their behaviors and growth. Though I knew Cathy and Chris would slowly feel something more for each other, I was shocked to find out all the children are actually products of incest themselves. The mother marries her half uncle and has his children. What a dynamic! Not that that has anything to do with Cathy and Chris forming a romantic relationship—I just found it fascinating.
Cathy and Chris come of age in that attic. They’re tortured up there, all the while trying to stay strong and take care of their younger siblings. Their father is dead, their mother abandoned them for money and a new husband, their grandmother constantly reminds them that they are the product of sin (all while beating them, starving them), and their grandfather has no idea that they even exist at all. Cathy and Chris watch each other grow. Go through puberty. I mean, they share 1 room and 1 bathroom—they’re bound to see each other in full. Can you honestly blame them for what happens? I can’t. It may not be right—and they know it’s not right, by the way, they both fight it hard—but who can blame them. What shocked me the most, though, was the moment they really do have sex. It’s not sex—it’s rape. Chris is angry. Possessive. Strong. He forces himself upon Cathy. She says she doesn’t want it, but at the same time wants it—but only because Chris wants it. And then later he says he’s sorry for raping her, and she says she could have stopped him if she really wanted to, and okay I’m sure a part of her wanted it because she wanted to have sex and intimacy and all that, but she didn’t want it with Chris. Not really. It was so awful. Everyone would tell me Chris and Cathy fall in love but it’s really not like that. They have all these feelings and desires and only each other to direct them at. It made me sick when Chris finally let go with his anger, and said Cathy was HIS forever and ever, and he was going to make her his—by raping her. That was so out of character, I thought. So strange. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t romantic at all, but thanks, everyone, for misleading me.
So that was a lot. Sorry. I just had strong feelings about it. Anyway. Though this book was VERY hard to read, and took me a long time, I’m glad I did end up reading it. I love character studies, and this one was a gold mine. The writing was good, the story was beyond interesting, and the characters are sympathetic even when they’re being stupid (because again, can you blame them??). It’s such a tragic story, and it’s one that will stick with me forever. But when I explain it to someone who hasn’t read it, I’m definitely not going to say it’s just a story about siblings falling in love. I’m going to say it’s a complex character study of four siblings and their mother, and how extreme, intense circumstances influence their behavior.
Anyway. I didn’t think I’d want to continue this series—especially since there are ELEVEN BOOKS WTF—but now I’m curious to see what happens! And all 11 books legit have a 3-star average rating on Goodreads, so they can’t be that bad. Right? Has anyone actually read all 11?