Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews

I had already wiki’d the story so I knew the plot but it still managed to completely grip me. The plot was so nasty and provoking for something that isn’t exactly an Indie novel, but hit the mainstream market. I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Chris, Cathy, Cory and Carrie have picturesque suburban lives until one day, their father dies, leaving them and their mother, Corrine, destitute. Believing she has no other alternative and putting all her faith into the proverb “Money makes the world go round”, Corrine takes her children back to her family’s home for assistance despite being disinherited for a sin, and hides them in the attic as she tries to get back into her family’s good graces. Life goes downhill for the children at this point.

This was one of those books that was a little awkward to read in public since the cover is girly and cutesy (look below to see what I mean) but it just fits right in with the whole tone of the novel. The entire time, Chris and Cathy are overly proper and optimistic and childish, always talking about “Momma”, which provided a sharp contrast to their sufferings. And because I knew what was coming, it was impossible to not see all the foreshadowing, making their descent into humiliation all the more heart-breaking and confronting. Their childish innocence at the beginning had long been replaced by world-weariness in the end.

Alongside everything else they go through, Cathy and Chris essentially go through puberty in captivity and these experiences are written in all its graphic glory; the experiences of menstruation, extra hair growing in places that previously wasn’t there, Cathy’s growing need for a bra, the rampant sexual desires from both Cathy and Chris. Everyone likes to reduce puberty to nothing more than angry, horny teenagers who have all the advantages of youth but none of the maturity so it’s nice to read something like this.

I also think the protagonists were well-developed and both Cathy and Chris had their strengths and weaknesses. I think there could have been a risk where Andrews could have written Cathy and Chris as perfect, sin-free victims who relies on the Deus ex Machina to save them but then the novel would have lost its impact and the protagonists would have been grating and indulgent.

What I mean to say is that if Cathy and Chris hadn’t been given relatable weaknesses, like Chris’s overbearing optimism and Cathy’s short-temper, this novel would have run the risk of just being one long humiliation conga line of weird and downright disgusting events being imposed on children. I don’t know if I’ve explained it well, but in this case, I’m really thinking of “A Little Princess” as the prime example. The characterisation of Sarah Crewe would have been catastrophic if used in “Flowers in the Attic”.

For a book written in such pastel overtones, the novel has a rather Gothic atmosphere. There isn’t much that I can discuss without giving away what the big plot twists and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, although I must say, I knew what the ‘Oh My God’ moment was and the impact wasn’t spoilt in the slightest when I got to it because it was just such a captivating read.

On Another Note

I also wiki’d the sequels and like all sequels trying to capitalise off the success of the first novel, it was pretty shit, so I won’t be reading them.

 

One aspect I particularly liked and would like to write about, was the juxtaposition of women’s capabilities between Cathy and Corrine. The novel was set in the 50s, a time when the extent of choices a woman could make was the type of cake they’d bake at the Community Church Bake Sale, yet it was written by Andrews in the 70s when the feminist movement really gained traction, so I would have been surprised if there wasn’t any commentary on women’s rights.

Corrine’s constant excuse for her dependence on money and need for an inheritance because there’s no other way, is justified by Corrine as a result of her lack of intelligence and the fact that she’s a woman. Read Corrine’s response to her daughter after she asks her how long it takes to be a secretary:

‘Only a little while, Cathy. Perhaps a month. But if it takes a bit longer, you have to be patient and realize I’m not too smart about things like that It’s not really my fault,’ she went on hastily, as if she could see I was blaming her for being inadequate.

‘When you’re born rich, and you’re educated in boarding schools only for the daughters of the extremely rich and powerful, and then you’re sent to a girls’ finishing school, you are taught polite rules of social etiquette, academic subjects, but most of all, you’re made ready for the whirl of romance, debutante parties, and how to entertain and be the perfect hostess. I wasn’t taught anything practical. I didn’t think I’d ever need any business skills. I thought I’d always have a husband to take care of me, and if not a husband, then my father would – and besides, all the time I was in love with your father. I knew the day I turned eighteen we’d be married.’

Contrast this to Cathy, witnessing just how degrading it was for herself and her future children to rely on someone, becomes determined to never be so reliant on anyone like her mother.

Never would I become so dependent on a man I couldn’t make my way in the world, no matter what cruel blow life delivered!

Even her brother Chris says the same thing to Cathy after she expresses fear at being left alone in the attic.

‘Look here, Cathy!’ he yelled. It’s time you learned to stand on your own two feet! You don’t need me at your side ever live-long minute of the day! That was Momma’s trouble. She thought she’d always have a man to lean on. Lean on yourself, Cathy, always.’

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