Flowers in the Attic - Dollanganger series - child abuse, incest, poisoning

Oct 29, 2006
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:ingenious plot, detailed storyline, well-developed characters

Cons:dark dark plot, disturbing events, not light reading

The Bottom Line: This is a good juicy story. It is not an example of fine literature but it is a captivating read.


Isn't it funny how we forget most of the moments that make up our lives, but some trivial ones are as vivid as if they occurred yesterday?

When I was in 6th grade I was sick enough to miss a full week of school. I remember my grandfather coming to pick me up after the nurse realized I was running a 103 temperature. I remember days laying in bed at my grandparent's house as neither parent could afford to take time off from work. I remember days of cold compresses, cool tubs, and even alcohol rub downs until my fever finally broke. I remember being well enough, finally, to sit up and begin reading a pile of paperbacks provided by an older cousin even though I was still too sick to leave the bed.

It is amazing, come to think of it, that I wasn't taken to a hospital or a doctor.

Anyway, during that time I read the first 3 books in the Dollanganger series and I will say now, upfront, that 11(12?) is way too young to have read this book.

The Plot

The story is told in the voice of an adult Cathy Dollanganger. In the opening of the story we meet what seems to be a perfect family living a typical suburban life in the 1950's. Christopher and Corrine Dollanganger are happily married with four children: Chris (14); Cathy (12); and twins Cory and Carrie (5). Neighbors call the family the "Dresden Dolls" because of their all sharing the same blond-haired blue-eyed beauty as well as their tongue-twisting last name.

Christopher works in Public Relations and is away from home all week long, returning on Friday nights to the bosom of his family. One Friday he is late arriving home, on a night when the house is filled with guests for his surprise 36th birthday party. He never arrives; instead police officers come and notify Corrine that there has been a fatal car accident.

Unfortunately Christopher Dollanganger died in debt. Not only will the family lose their home but almost all of their possessions will be repossessed forcing Corrine to turn to the parents who disowned her many years ago.

The Foxworth's are incredibly wealthy, and the children are told about the mansion they will be living in and how rich they will be; however, things to not come to pass according to these promises.

Instead the children are brought to a distant bedroom in the house that 4 children will have to share. Originally they are told it is for one night, and then a few days, finally they are told it will have to be until their Grandfather dies.

And so the story, for the most part, takes place within a 32 square foot bedroom, its adjoining bath, and an attic space. Eventually they spent 3.5 years trapped in these tight quarters.

Disturbing Moments

During the 3.5 years the children are locked away they are whipped, starved, beaten, and generally mistreated.

The mother's betrayal of her children is eventually so total and so complete that it comes as a shock.

Additionally, one of the main themes in the book is incest. Corrine and Christopher are revealed to have been niece and half-uncle (though later books reveal that they were actually half-siblings). Going through puberty, trapped with no other outlet and no privacy natural curiosities lead Chris and Cathy down a similar path. However, theirs is magnified by the fact that they truly have no one else to turn to and no one else to trust.

One scene involves sex between this brother and sister, and while brief, it is still a haunting moment as it is just "this side" of rape.

Another theme is the religious fanaticism of the Grandmother. The 3 paintings on the bedroom walls depict Hell. She refers to the children as being Devil's Spawn due to their being a product of incest. She is also constantly accusing them of committing sins themselves.

The Writing

This is one of the books that I have read over and over again. I would like to tell you that Ms. Andrews is a phenomenal writer, but she isn't. What she is, instead, is a great story teller.

A main bone of contention for her critics is her use of what is called "purple prose". Purple prose is "any writing that is undermined by it’s over stylized and formulaic nature". (wikipedia.org)

I would agree that Ms. Andrews certainly loves flowery language and often makes excessive use of adjectives. I would also agree that it is somewhat formulaic in that it seems to follow patterns set out in Grimm's version fairy tales.

But, not every book has to be of the caliber of Shakespeare, just as every good meal doesn't have to be prepared by a celebrity chef.

Flowers in the Attic, and the rest of the series, do not pretend to be a great work of literature. It is simply a story, one meant not to capture the intellect but the imagination.


Why I Liked This Book

The characters of Cathy, Chris and the mother are well defined. Cathy and Chris are much like two sides of a coin, he being trusting and optimistic and she being cynical and pessimistic. The mother is nothing short of a sociopath. She lives for only her own pleasure and lacks even a modicum of true love or even empathy. But, like many sociopaths she has learned to hide it very well.

The story itself, while limited in geography and setting, is so vivid emotionally and descriptively that you do get caught up in it almost immediately.

Upon my first reading of this book, I felt like I KNEW Christopher and Cathy. I felt that I had been in the attic witnessing their life there. And when I reread this book, even know 25 years later, I fall into the story all over again.


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