With its much-hyped television movie adaptation airing tomorrow on Lifetime, I was inspired recently to reread Flowers in the Attic, among the most divisive novels in recent memory. Ask anyone over the age of 30 and chances are good they have vivid memories of their first time reading V. C. Andrews’ best-selling psychological horror novel. First published in 1979, it revolves around four children’s emotional and physical abuse by their mother and grandmother. But while the book has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, reader reaction to the novel—which infamously features incest between a pubescent brother and sister locked in their grandmother’s attic with their younger twin siblings—varies sharply depending on who you talk to. In the last week, I’ve asked a couple dozen people about Flowers in the Attic, and there is no middle ground: it’s either cherished or reviled.
“I loved that book! It’s a classic.”
“That’s book’s trashy. Complete garbage.”
With the release of the new TV movie imminent, Gallery Books has reissued the novel in a beautiful trade paperback. I got myself a copy and revisited a novel that I first read more than three decades ago. And….
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience—much more so than the first time! I thought that the narrative was thoughtful, articulate, and replete with subtle symbolism and imagery. It was a story that worked on multiple levels. The opening sequence, for example, was profound:
“It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like the sun we seldom saw. And as I begin to copy from the old memorandum journals that I kept for so long, a title comes as if inspired. Open the Window and Stand in the Sunshine. Yet, I hesitate to name our story that. For I think of us more as flowers in the attic. Paper flowers. Born so brightly colored, and fading duller through all those long, grim, dreary, nightmarish days when we were held prisoners of hope, and kept captives by greed.”
It’s a heartrending story: terrible, shameful, abhorrent…evil. But at the center of all of the moral malignancy is a heroic story of survival, one of courage and love and hope. Flowers in the Attic is an unforgettable read, including powerfully drawn characters, a frank examination of “taboo” subject matter, brilliantly dark atmospherics that are simultaneously horrific and hopeful, and, above all else, the completely immersive quality of the novel. Readers will feel like they’re living in the confines of that dusty attic, wasting away month after month, year after year, like a “plant brought up in a dark hothouse, stunted and withered.”
I understand some of the negativity surrounding this book. The 1987 movie starring Louise Fletcher and Kristy Swanson was so bad it it verged on comedy, and the decision to continue the V.C. Andrews “brand” after her death in 1986 with a ghostwriter rubbed many people the wrong way, myself included. But that being said, if you just judge this book by its contents, you’ll find it’s an engrossing and haunting story. So, regardless of whether this new movie is fantastic or less than stellar, I would strongly recommend the novel—particularly as a reread for all of those who read it when they were younger. It’s undeniably a cult classic.