Review: ‘Flowers in the Attic’ Virginia Andrews

I couldn’t find a decent picture of this edition’s front cover, so here’s a photo of my copy sitting on a chair on my balcony.

Up in the attic, four secrets are hidden. Four blonde, beautiful, innocent little secrets, struggling to stay alive…

Chris, Cathy, Cory and Carrie have perfect lives – until a tragic accident changes everything. Now they must wait, hidden from view in their grandparents’ attic, as their mother tries to figure out what to do next. But as days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the siblings endure unspeakable horrors and face the terrifying realisation that they might not be let out of the attic after all.

Virginia Andrews is a publishing phenomenon, with over 100 million books in print. Still as terrifying now as it was when it first appeared, Flowers in the Attic is a gripping story of a family’s greed, betrayal and heartbreak.

TW: This review discusses sexual assault.

I’d heard of Flowers in the Attic, but the only thing I knew about it was that it’s about, to quote myself, “some kids in an attic“. It’s a Gothic horror classic and having seen it mentioned in Paperbacks from Hell, I decided to give it a try.

Like other book bloggers, though, I soon realised that Flowers in the Attic is much more multifaceted than I’d initially assumed. It’s not just about “some kids in an attic”, two of whom grow to like each other just a bit too much. It’s a story about heartache and loss, greed and cruelty, and, combined, these themes made for one of the most heartbreaking books that I’ve read in a long time.

Upon the death of their father, the  Dollanganger children are whisked away to their grandparents’ house, whereupon their arrival, they’re locked in a bedroom with a narrow staircase leading up to a vast attic. It transpires that their mother was disinherited for reasons that I won’t disclose. Because of this, she needs to persuade her ailing father to write her back into his will. Knowing that this won’t happen if he finds out about her four children, though, Corrine tells Chris, Cathy, Cory and Carrie that they must remain hidden until he passes away.

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months and yep, you guessed it, months turn into years. During this time, Chris and Cathy notice their mother’s visits becoming shorter and these visits becoming less frequent. The gradual realisation that Corinne would rather keep her children imprisoned than risk her new lavish lifestyle was heartwrenching. There were two scenes in particular that really got to me, both of which involve Cory. One of those scenes is where Cory doesn’t understand why his mama hasn’t noticed his new pet mouse. Children are always trying to please their parents and Cory is desperate for his mother to notice his well-trained new friend. Corrine is so self-absorbed, so busy talking about herself and her wonderful life, that she barely notices Cory, let alone his pet. His hurt is almost tangible and I desperately wanted to reach into the book and hug him. The second scene that had my eyes stinging with tears is the one in which Corrine is conflicted as to what to do when Cory is sick. I won’t go into too much detail, but her selfishness rears its ugly head and she’s genuinely more concerned about herself than the health and wellbeing of her youngest son. Corrine’s selfishness is an ugly and horrifying thing and at the end of the novel, the desperate lengths that she went to for the sake of her lavish lifestyle are revealed. It was a plot twist that I genuinely didn’t see coming.

I can totally see why Flowers in the Attic is a classic. However, it’s also very problematic in places. I get that it was published in 1979, a time when people perhaps didn’t discuss consent as openly as they do now, but even so, I can’t excuse Andrews’ dismissal of Cathy’s rape. Upon hearing that Cathy kissed their mother’s sleeping husband, Chris flies into an uncharacteristic rage in the attic, screaming at Cathy that she’s his and that he’s going to make her his. He then tackles her onto a grubby old mattress, where he rapes her. Later, Chris apologises for his actions, but Cathy says, “I could have stopped you if I really wanted to…It was my fault too.” Despite Andrews playing this incident off as something that Cathy actually desired, Cathy didn’t want this and this is evident in the passage in which the rape happens. She tells the reader that she tried to “fight him off”, then goes on to say how he “forced” himself inside her. These aren’t words associated with love or sex; they’re words associated with rape.

Without this scene, I probably would have given what is otherwise a gripping novel five stars.

Want to read Flowers in the Attic? Head on over to Hive, World of Books or eBay to order your copy. Alternatively, you can order it through your local bookstore.

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