The Wife Upstairs: Jane Eyre Meets The Real Housewives
August 9, 2021 – Melissa Somoza
Good Summer Read
In her adult debut, Rachel Hawkins, offers a delicious twist on a popular classic with her newest novel, The Wife Upstairs. Drawing inspiration from Jane Eyre by Emily Bronte, Hawkins crafts a tale of Southern charm, forbidden romance, and a wife who wants out from upstairs.
Freshly arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, we meet Jane; a broke dog-walker in the esteemed gated community, Thornfield Estates, which is filled with money, mansions, and married women. Jane easily blends into this neighborhood where no one will question her name or her past, and not notice their missing valuables as Jane snatches them up and into her bag.
Dead broke and tired of her life, Jane meets the recently widowed and very mysterious, Eddie Rochester, and soon her luck changes. Eddie’s wife, Bea, was in a horrible boating accident where her and her best friend drowned. Jane sees a different life with Eddie; an opportunity waiting to be taken. Eddie has wealth and good looks, and the protection she has always wanted after running away from her past.
As Jane and Eddie fall in love, the legend of Bea Rochester continues to haunt her. Bea was an established, accomplished, rich Southern beauty while Jane views herself as plain and unnoticeable. Can she ever become one of the rich housewives of Thornfield Estates, escaping her own past… and Eddie’s? Will Jane become Mrs. Rochester and get the happy ending she always dreamed of?
I had never previously read one of Hawkins’ novels, so this was my first deep dive into her work. Her previous work was all young adult fiction so making the jump into the world of adult fiction is always difficult. After seeing this new book flying off the shelves of the library where I work, I decided to give it a go. Adult thrillers are a favorite of mine and having Jane Eyre be my favorite classic novel, I figured reading a reimagining of the story could be fun, and it certainly was.
Jane gets entangled in the fancy community of Thornfield Estates beginning as a dog-walker and soon making her way into the house of the elusive Eddie Rochester as his girlfriend. As Jane fully immerses herself in the glitz and glamour of Thornfield Estates, she begins to feel the lingering presence and legacy of the woman’s place she is in now, Bea Rochester. She learns the ins and outs of the upper-class world she has entered, smoothly slipping into the elegant lifestyle. The more she lives with Eddie and surrounds herself with the rich individuals in Thornfield Estates, the more suspicious and antsy Jane becomes. Filled with small town drama and bored housewife gossip, Jane grows eager to unravel details of the past, but only if it is not hers. She is not the only person in Thornfield Estates hiding skeletons in her closet.
“And for the first time in my life, I say, ‘I trust you.’ And I think I actually mean it.”
The Wife Upstairs has many parallels to its gothic inspiration, Jane Eyre, but manages to stand on its own with the new twists and turns added in. Jane Eyre is more of a dark and brooding story while The Wife Upstairs has a gentler tone, coming at you like a snarky Southern soap opera. It is more modern, with an almost feminist touch sprinkled in. It is a story about identity, rank, and secrets mixed in with the original twisted love triangle and mysterious characters. If you have read Jane Eyre you can kind of figure out where the story goes, but Hawkins does a good job of making sure to still keep you on your feet with her originality.
Each of the characters is totally unrelatable, but incredibly engaging. They are equally all selfish and unsympathetic, but each have their own quirks and charm that makes you enjoy reading about their lives regardless of their unpleasant personalities. Jane, Bea, Eddie. Even the side characters give off this air of superiority and distaste, but you cannot help but want to know more about them, what their lives are like, and what makes them tick.
“There’s a trick to spinning lies. You have to embed the truth in there, just a glimmer of it.”
Hawkins writing is effortless to become immersed in. She has a writing style that is very smooth and flows easily from word to word. She naturally draws you into the story and invites you to stay. With short chapters, Hawkins manages to keep you turning the page again and again even though you told yourself you would put it down and go to bed after finishing one more chapter. Told in separate parts, with multiple points of view, Hawkins weaves a tale of yearning and tragedy. The perspective shifts kept the story intriguing and helped keep the fast-paced nature of thrillers. There were some jumps in time, but it was never confusing and never took you out of the story.
Overall, The Wife Upstairs, is a wonderful read. I would give this novel a 4.5 star rating out of 5 only because I feel like the ending wrapped up a little quicker and smoother than I would have liked. It is crafted with such care and written amazingly well. I feel like it can appeal to die-hard fans of Jane Eyre, but also bring in non-fans who will enjoy the gothic thriller as well. It is a funny, well crafted, smart, twisted read that thriller fans will enjoy.
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