Having read Jane Eyre in college, I’ve forever been intrigued by the book. I was never a huge fan, instead preferring books like Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights, but I was also intrigued by how much people loved Jane Eyre. So when I saw that The Wife Upstairs is a contemporary meets mystery re-telling of Jane Eyre I was instantly hooked. Find out how it stacked up in today’s book review.
Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates––a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.
But her luck changes when she meets Eddie Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie––not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for.
Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past––or his––catches up to her?
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
The ways in which The Wife Upstairs retains and alters the elements from Jane Eyre immediately captivated me. I loved that Jane had a bit of an edge to her. In the original I was always skeptical of her inherent goodness, but this Jane is more calculated and she felt more relatable, more flawed. Immersed in a world of affluence, all Jane wants is to be secure. So what if some truths are better left unsaid. And what held my attention was the way that Hawkins manipulates this image projection on to the other characters.
Throughout The Wife Upstairs we are given Jane, Eddie, and B’s perspective. Each of them struggle with the lies we tell ourselves about who we are. About who the people we love are underneath their exterior. How desperate we can be for (re)invention and to leave the past behind us. The Wife Upstairs manages to be both character driven, as their stories unravel, and action packed. Listening to the book on audio only made the characters come alive even more vividly. Each of the narrators are able to lend that specific tone people have when they seem to be in denial, the desperation of looming shadows.
While reading, I became entranced with the themes and the lengths to which we will go to in order to cross the line between envy and action. How desperate we can be to leave the past behind us, to transform, and burn it all down. The pit in your stomach grows are you’re waiting for the threads to weave together and once it does, the action’s momentum crescendos. For me, after an especially pivotal moment, I felt like the pace was too quick. The ending, considering all the build up, felt abrupt. Overall, The Wife Upstairs is a book about the people who are in the past who may keep that version of us alive and what we do to leave it all behind, to turn our pasts into ghosts.