When she locks them in a room at their grandmother’s house, Corrine Dollanganger tells her children that it will only be for a day. Then it is two days. Then three, and as the days become weeks and the weeks become years they fear that they will never escape the confines of that one small room and the large attic above it. There are four of them: Chris is 14, Cathy is 12, and the twins, Cory and Carrie, are only 4. Until their father died life had been good for the children. Then a car traffic accident changed everything and their father, Christopher Dollanganger, was suddenly gone from their lives.
Without any money and living in a home that was bought and furnished on credit, Corrine has no one to turn to except the parents who disowned her when she got married. Corrine’s father is a millionaire and she is his only living child. Her mother, who is wealthy in her own right, has no need of her husband’s money and so Corrine must fight to get back into her father’s good books and back into his will, but she tells her children that she dare not, tell him that he has grandchildren. Not yet. She will tell him when she has won his favour. It won’t take long and their grandfather is a dying man!
The children also discover that Dollanganger is not their real name. It is Foxworth and the reason that their grandparents frowned on their parents’ marriage is because Corrine and Christopher were closely related to each other. Christopher was in fact his wife’s half-uncle.
The dying grandfather might be ignorant of the children’s existence, but his wife is not and it is she who brings the children a hamper of food once a day. The grandmother is a hard and cruel woman, though, and considers them an abomination. “We will dole out food, drink and shelter,” she tells them, “but never kindness, sympathy or love.” She also provides them with a long list of rules that they must learn and obey. And when these rules are broken her punishments are cruel and severe. She beats them and at one point starves them for a week. Through all of this their mother’s visits become less and less, the grandfather hangs on and on and their only place of escape is the attic. The servants have no idea that they are there, their grandmother hates them and their mother is fast forgetting them. Life is hard and their health is fading: four flowers in the attic with neither the sunlight or the room to spread their roots and grow.
Flowers in the Attic is 412 pages long and is rather a sad story. The children are betrayed by the person who should love them the most and they have no one to turn to but each other. If they become ill there will be no doctor to turn to either. None will be called because to all intents and purposes the chidren do not exist. They are momma’s little secret and, with the help of her mother, she guards that secret well.
Flowers in the Attic touches on a few taboo subjects such as child abuse and incest and because of its controversial nature it has, at times, been banned in certain parts of the world. The story is also very dark in places and I must admit to feeling quite squeamish when I read the part where, after days without food, the ever resourceful Chris, slashes his wrists and feeds the twins with his blood. He then fillets a couple of dead mice ready for he and Cathy to eat—with a little salt and pepper, of course.
If you have seen the Flowers in the Attic movie, you will find quite a few differences in the book. Especially towards the end. In the movie the selfish Corrine Dollanganger is all set to remarry, but comes to a much deserved and sticky end on her wedding day. In the book, however, she remarries and, rather annoyingly, gets away with her part in the children’s torment. The book Flowers in the Attic, though, is only the first instalment of a much longer story which continues over a further four books: Petals on the Wind, If There Be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday and Garden of Shadows.
If you are looking for a horror story that features serial killers, paranormal entities or monsters, Flowers in the Attic is probably not going to interest you. The monsters in this book are all of the human kind and they try to kill their victims slowly. If, on the other hand, you fancy a change from all of the usual rattling chains and splatter fests—and if the controversial nature of the story does not offend—then you might want to give the book a try. It will probably shock you at times and maybe even sicken, but it shouldn’t give you any nightmares.