‘Flowers in the attic. Paper flowers. Born so brightly coloured, and fading duller through all those long, grim, dreary, nightmarish days when we were held prisoners of hope.’ – Virginia Andrews – Flowers in the Attic
I have spoken before about how books mean different things to us as we grow older, but how I wish I had read this book when I was a teenager, just to spot this difference.
After All Men Are Mortal I sped through Fifty Shades Darker which was, admittedly, light enough for me to handle after de Beauvoir’s work that touched me so much. Then I moved onto Flowers in the Attic, Andrews’ first in a series about the ‘Dollanganger’ children: the narrater: Cathy, her older brother Chris and their younger siblings (the twins) Carrie and Cory.
A lot of young adult fiction nowadays is about growing up, often in dysfunctional families or alternative-dystopian worlds, but Flowers in the Attic manages to take what should be a dysfunctional family into one stronger than others in modern YA (young adult) fiction.
Cathy, around 12 when the book begins, narrates the story of her adolescence. At the age of 36 her father is killed in a car accident and her mother has no choice but to beg her mother and father for forgiveness; her parents are rich and if she gains back her father’s love she will also gain a great fortune. But the children must hide. They must hide in the farthest away room in the house, that leads up to the attic. Cathy’s mother promises they will only be there a few days.
Days turn into weeks, and weeks to months. The children remain and Cathy, Chris and the twins grow tired, but also grow up. At least, Cathy and Chris do, where as the twins stay in their child-like state. Cathy becomes their mother, and Chris their father.
As the children grow in the attic, their mother grows away from them, enjoying her parents’ riches and falling for a new man, she visits less and less, until one day she seems no longer like a mother at all.
The only place the children can play in is the attic. They use it for a multitude of things, for Cathy’s Ballet and Chris’s studies, to teach the twins to read and write and to play games; they cover it in paper flowers that change season to season, making their attic their garden.
But of course as Cathy turns from 12 to 16 and Chris from 14 to 18 other things happen to their minds and their bodies. Cathy and Chris have no one to look to for sexual growth but each other, and already acting as a mother and father to the twins they become close, like a couple, and like their mother and father who were loosely related, become sexual with each other.
Eventually, after years locked in two rooms, tragedy strikes and the children decide to escape.
Flowers in the Attic deals with so many ‘issues’ in such a way that isn’t patronising or sickening, they flow through the storyline of the book with grace, and even the relationship between Cathy and Chris seems natural and sweet. The religious undertones of the Grandmother’s suffocating rules gives Andrew’s book an edge of gothic, horror along with the ‘growing up’ theme that pulses throughout.
Needless to say, I want to read the next one. That’s the problem, there are sequels, and I don’t feel satisfied yet.
I guess that’s the sign of a good book.
NB: This post was originally published in 9monthsofwomen.com