The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

Posted On 11 February 2021

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My Five Word TL:DR Review : Twisted reimagining of a Classic

WifeThe Wife Upstairs was, without doubt, one of my most anticipated reads of the year so far, mainly because I talked myself into thinking this was a retelling of Jane Eyre.  As it is I would say that this is a story that takes inspiration from that classic story and updates it for a modern audience including a few twists along the way.  Okay, I won’t deny that I actually enjoyed reading this (even though it wasn’t a straight up retelling) – Jane Eyre it isn’t, and I also had one or two issues that I had to put to one side, but even with those provisos, like I said, I enjoyed this.

Our main character, appropriately called Jane, is a dog walker for the rich housewifes who live in the gated community of Thornfield Estates.  She is running from her past and a little down on her luck when we first meet her but within fairly short order her situation changes when she makes the acquaintance of wealthy, handsome widower Eddie Rochester.  With almost indecent haste Jane finds herself living in the most impressive mansion on the estate and with the most eligible (and wealthy) bachelor to boot.  Of course, the rose tinted glasses soon come off as the rumour mill runs amok.  And the rumours are not about the latest little minx to snag herself a wealthy man, they are instead about the disappearance of said ‘wealthy man’s’ wife under suspicious circumstances and his almost ridiculous rush to start afresh, millions under his belt and a new woman tucked up in his mansion.

I wouldn’t call this a retelling because for the most part the story is pretty much it’s own beast – apart from some very surface similarities such as people and place names.  That being said both books do share one particular thing in common – missing first wives.

This is a book of secrets, lies and deception which does make it difficult to say too much without giving away spoilers although readers familiar with the original may be able to guess at certain elements – although, even with some educated assumptions there is still a twist along the way.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the characters.  Many of them are less than likable or morally a little ‘grey’.  Jane for example is no angel.  She’s not above stealing pieces of jewellery that catch her fancy, she has no love for the wealthy wives she mixes with and she is always weighing up the best way to speak or behave in order to manipulate people.  Refreshingly, she is very open in terms of the information she shares with the reader and so we are well aware of her scheming and duplicitous ways, and yet, in spite of this, I began to feel a certain attachment to her or at least became worried about her safety at certain points.  Mr Rochester, seems to be perfect, although we clearly don’t get to observe what’s taking place in his head instead learning about him through gossip and the rumour mill.  Much like Jane, Eddie seems to have enjoyed a most welcome push up the ladder when he met and married Bea (the late Mrs Rochester) and of course the disappearance of both Bea and her best friend during a boozy boat trip, which left him sitting very pretty, is looked at with suspicion.  Again, Eddie is one of those characters that I found myself veering from disbelief, to dislike to almost (but not quite) sympathy. Bea herself was also something of a rags to riches character creating a successful company that made her famous and wealthy beyond her wildest dreams, but again, she isn’t perfect.  Nothing is exactly how it first appears with  these characters, in fact between the three of them they really do test your patience at times and I couldn’t help but find myself thinking that they really did deserve each other.

The story itself is entertaining.  We have a number of jaunts down memory lane as a means to find out more about the characters both present and missing and we soon learn that everything wasn’t quite as rosy as might first appear.  Now, I did have a slight problem with one of the key elements here but it’s something I can’t really discuss and to be honest I was able to put it to one side and not let it affect the read.   On the whole I really enjoyed the writing and found this easy to read.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, not much to be honest.  I think, personally, I went into this one expecting it to be a retelling but when I look back at the description, etc, it never really professes to be so, in fact it says ‘a delicious twist on a gothic classic’ and to be honest it delivers in that respect.  So, firstly, don’t be expecting a modern day retelling of Jane Eyre.  Secondly, the setting is completely different.  This isn’t gothic at all and isn’t trying to be.  Think more Desperately Rich Housewives – and you’ll be somewhat closer to the mark.  Finally, the characters have a different twist, none of them are completely blameless but some are definitely guiltier than others.

So, with all that in mind, I had a good time with this one.  It was fast paced, easy to read and it kept me coming back for more.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating – between 3.5 and 4 stars (7 out of 10) but will probably err on the side of 4 rather than 3 because I did find this easy to get on with.