The Wife Upstairs. Rachel Hawkins. 2021. [January] 290 pages. [Source: Review copy]
First sentence: It is the absolute shittiest day for a walk. Rain has been pouring down all morning, making my drive from Center Point out here to Mountain Brook a nightmare, soaking the hem of my jeans as I got out of the car in the Reeds’ driveway, making my sneakers squelch on the marble floors of the foyer. But Mrs. Reed is holding her dog Bear’s leash, making a face at me, this frown of exaggerated sympathy that’s supposed to let me know how bad she feels about sending me out in the rain on this Monday morning.
Premise/plot: If Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock got together to retell Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, it might look a little something like Rachel Hawkins' The Wife Upstairs.
What should you know going into it? Well, I'd say very little. I'll keep this section to a bare minimum. It's contemporary. Set in Alabama. A psychological thriller.
My thoughts: No doubt about it if I'd read this one in my night-owl days I'd have stayed up all night to read it in one sitting. As it is I had to split it into two readings. I definitely found it engaging and thought-provoking. (These characters stayed on my mind when I wasn't reading the book. I thought about them throughout the day as I was anticipating picking up the book again.)
It isn't strictly just a retelling of Jane Eyre. It's more like Jane Eyre is the jumping off place for a crazy psychological thriller. Crazy mostly in a good way.
One element completely lacking from The Wife Upstairs is what my mom would call the preachiness of Jane Eyre. Gone are all the religious/moral overtones and imagery. I doubt they'd work well in a contemporary novel anyhow.
I think the gothicness of Jane Eyre AND Rebecca combine well with the Southern setting.
It is told from three perspectives: Jane, Bea, and Eddie. (Though Hawkins keeps us waiting until the (very) end for Eddie's perspective). Because it isn't told in alternating chapters--rigidly going from one to the other in a strict pattern--the suspense builds and builds and builds. (In my opinion).
Did I love it? I wouldn't say love is the right word. Depending on if you look for premise-driven and/or plot-driven books OR if you are mainly a fan of character-driven works. One or two words about the characters, I can't think of a single character (perhaps with the exception of all the dogs) that I'd classify as likeable. In other words, Hawkins isn't all about sympathetic characters that you cheer on and care about.
Is it clean? Not really. I'd say the number one reason it isn't clean is the language--lots of casual cussing. The language is far from ideal if that matters to you. The smut is kept to a bare minimum of description and gets very little page space. So I wasn't horribly bothered by the content.
Would I recommend it to Jane Eyre lovers that don't like psychological thrillers? No. Yes. Maybe.
No. I would not recommend The Wife Upstairs if Jane and Edward are your most favorite romantic couple of all time and one that you revisit a couple times a year. If what you love is the romance of the original--reader, I married him--then you'll probably be disappointed and not even call this a retelling. You might even call it a murder.
Yes. I would recommend if you enjoy the atmosphere of JANE EYRE and REBECCA and DRAGONWYCK. (Dragonwyck is by Anya Seton). This one is all about SUSPENSE, DANGER, MYSTERY, HORROR, THRILLS. If the actual feel-good romance and happily ever after ending was your least favorite part of the original, this one is for you.
Maybe. If you enjoy the original novel a great deal--perhaps even love and adore it--BUT are also open to psychological thrillers and suspense novels in general, then this one may appeal. If you're open to deconstructing and rearranging, then this one may just work well for you.
© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews