July 22, 2014

Audiobook Review: FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC by V. C. Andrews

Description:  At the top of the stairs there are four secrets hidden. Blond, beautiful, innocent, and struggling to stay alive…

They were a perfect family, golden and carefree—until a heartbreaking tragedy shattered their happiness. Now, for the sake of an inheritance that will ensure their future, the children must be hidden away out of sight, as if they never existed. Kept on the top floor of their grandmother’s vast mansion, their loving mother assures them it will be just for a little while. But as brutal days swell into agonizing months and years, Cathy, Chris, and twins Cory and Carrie realize their survival is at the mercy of their cruel and superstitious grandmother…and this cramped and helpless world may be the only one they ever know.

Book One of the Dollanganger series, followed by Petals in the Wind, If There be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, and Garden of Shadows.

My Thoughts on Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews

Let me start this off with a big disclaimer.  Spoilers ahead.  Let me repeat, SPOILERS AHEAD.  I read this book way back in the early 80s and I am going to assume that you did also.  So do not read any further if you have not read the book or watched either movie version.  You have been warned.

As I posted in the paragraph above, I read this book back in the early 80s when it was new and Ms. Andrews was still alive and writing.  I thought it was creepy then but I loved it.  Listening to it as an adult with a fully functioning brain not inebriated by hormones and a general impaired intelligence brought on by adolescence, it is not only creepy but super creepy and WRONG.  But I still love it.

Where to start?  Maybe with the fact that even before Daddy died (which happens in the first chapter) and the kids were carted off to be locked up in the attic, this family was not right.  I'm not just talking about the fact that Cathy's parents were half-uncle and niece (ewwwww) but the fact that both Cathy and her elder brother Chris are fascinated with their mother, her legs, her breasts, everything.  NOT.  NORMAL.   Somehow I missed that fact when I read this as a teen myself, probably because I was suffering from adolescence (see disclaimer above) and I was in a rush to get to the "good stuff" (i.e., the dirty parts and the romance which - - ewwwww - - is dead ahead). 

Listening to this book not only drives home how often Cathy and Chris both watch their mother like love-starved stalkerish hawks but how neither of them actually talks like teenagers.  Not even teenagers from the 1950s, when Flowers is mostly set.  They speak much too formally and about things that I can't imagine teenaged boys and girls really care about, much less siblings.  Another thing about Cathy's narration . . . she is incredibly self-centered.  I guess it's to be expected.  She is the narrator and she's a twelve year old at the start of the book but how many times does she ask her own brother how pretty she is?  How many times does she point out how handsome and awesome her own brother is?  This book is creepy.

And therein lies another issue.  Because it can't be mentioned enough, this book is creepy.  Cathy and Chris are far too close for a normal brother and sister (and "normal" is extremely overrated if you're a Dollanganger) even before going through puberty (which conveniently happens at the exact same time).  What twelve year old girl would want her fourteen year old brother in the bathroom with her while she takes a bath?  What fourteen year old boy would want to be in there with his sister?  Not normal.  Clearly the Grandmother knew what was up and had their number.  Hearing these things via an audiobook are even more disturbing than reading them, if that's even possible.

Stepping away from the brother-sister creepy factor for just a moment (and only a moment because this is a V.C. Andrews book, after all), the book is creepy in a gothic way as well.  We have the huge old house, being locked into a room indefinitely, the big attic full of secrets, the old man downstairs knocking on death's door and the Grandmother who alternates between spouting Bible verses and wanting people to strip so she can whip them.  Even outside of the Cathy-Chris situation, thinking of being locked into a room for years makes this reader/listener uncomfortable which is clearly the intention of Ms. Andrews with her writing.  Can any other book make you uncomfortable with the thought of siblings in a big house with their grandmother?

The twins, Carrie and Cory, relegated to supporting parts in the book are relatively the same in the audio version with the exception that Carrie is quite possibly the most annoying character ever.  She takes whining and screaming to a whole new level that I never want to visit again.  I totally get why the Grandmother picked her up by the hair and I'm only disappointed that she didn't hurl her out the window. 

What happens eventually -- the "dirty" part or the "romance" (or maybe both, depending on how you see it) should come as no surprise given that Chris likes to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at Cathy (dressed or undressed, irrelevant) and these two apparently consider it perfectly normal for siblings to hold, fondle and kiss each other while undressed.  Ugh, I feel gross just typing that.  In case you haven't figured it out, Chris will eventually decide that keeping it in the family is what it's all about, showing their parents that a half-uncle/niece relationship is small potatoes when you have a hot teenage sister around.    

This is what most people remember Flowers and V. C. Andrews for . . .the incest between Chris and Cathy.   While all of Ms. Andrews' books were gothic in nature and dealt with severely jacked up families, I think this is the only book that really went there.  This book is creepy.

And yet . . . this book is extremely addictive, obsessive and intoxicating.  What does that say about readers like me?  Yes, I wonder too.  I do think that Ms. Andrews was the 1980s version of Stephenie Meyer, who has received a lot of flack and criticism for her Twilight series of books (also read by me).  Both women may not have or have had the most stellar of writing abilities and skill but damn if they couldn't set a premise that would suck you in like nobody's business.  In Ms. Andrews' case, her setting of Foxworth Hall and the attic is spectacular.  You can't read (or listen) to Flowers and not visualize this grand estate with the sprawling (and somewhat scary) attic.  For the record, this is where the movies fall down because the sets simply cannot live up to what I created in my mind.

Back to the audio version.    Alyssa Bresnahan does an admirable job as our fearless and familially obsessed narrator Cathy.  She does not sound as I had imagined Cathy would sound but I liked her and it worked for me.  She also voices our other characters and outside of Cathy, I would say she does her best as Corinne, the children's spoiled and money-hungry mother.   The narrator can make or break an audiobook and Ms. Bresnahan only adds to the overall value of this guilty pleasure.

Flowers in the Attic continues to be one of the most readable trashy books you will ever pick up.  Once you start reading, or listening, you won't want to stop.   Knowing this is the first book in a series brings a special kind of pain because the story won't conclude on the last page and you know there is more dysfunctional "love" coming via Petals on the Wind.  Where Chris gets even creepier, if you can imagine, and Cathy makes the worst decisions imaginable.  Repeatedly.  And yes, I'm listening to that next.

Would I recommend this book?  Abso-freaking-lutely, if you want an enjoyable guilty read and/or are the type of person who enjoys secretive readings of the National Enquirer or Star and denies it.  This is far and away V.C. Andrews' best series and my favorite (dysfunctional) characters she created.  Her other books don't come as close to the gothic horror nature this book does.  Because this book is creepy.

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FTC Disclosure:  This audiobook is from my own personal collection and was purchased by me.  I was neither paid nor compensated (don't I wish) for this review.

1 comment:

Authors 4 Characters said...

Thanks for the review of this book. So agreed! What kid is even aware of their parents physical / sexual features. Spew!!!! And Corrine's admission that her father never wanted her to marry and to always stay with him.... You gotta wonder what kind of parents V.C. Andrews had. Or what kind of stories she read that planted such bizarre lives. Like you said, "CREE-PEEE!"

As for Carrie..... the one time I rooted for the grandmother was when he picked that up screechy banshee by her hair and dropped her. I was hoping she would have flung Carrie out the window. If I had written that story, I would have had Cathy become almost as bad as the grandmother.

"CARRIE! Do you see a kitchen in this room?! Do you?! "

Stunned silent, Carrie only shook her head slowly.

"Exactly. You have what you have. This isn't a restaurant and we don't have a kitchen. So you will EAT what is in front of you or you will NOT eat!! "