I took The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins on my vacation and learned a couple things—1) I tend to pack my vacations with enough things it’s hard to read, 2) don’t get separated from your book on the plane… see point one, and 3) I think I’m a fan of reimaginings!
For the classic lit fans, the title alone should give you a huge clue about which book it’s referencing. For the not-as-much fans, I’ll just come out and say it… it’s Jane Eyre. But modern and with a bit of a twist! And honestly, the twists were so well thought out, that I didn’t see some (many) of them coming, so, love that!
Let’s get into a real quick synopsis—
“Jane” is a klepto-dog-walker (no she doesn’t steal the rich people’s dogs, just miscellaneous trinkets) in an upscale Alabama neighborhood. One morning, she gets distracted looking at her favorite house, the one that’s slightly different from the rest, when suddenly, Eddie Rochester comes careening out of the driveway and almost hits her. He worries. She says she’s fine. He asks her for coffee. And it’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Not really, I just couldn’t resist a Casablanca Reference.
What really happens is they do, eventually, begin a relationship. Jane keeps getting phone calls from her ex-roommate John Rivers. Said calls are looking for a Helen Burns. And the mystery of what happened to Eddie’s first wife, Bea (aka. Bertha) and her best friend Blanche Ingraham are hanging over Jane’s head.
Let me be clear, while Jane likes Eddie, she’s not exactly in this for the love. She’s in this for the power that comes with money. She’s in this to run away from her past. But gosh darn Bea keeps getting in the way, she can never measure up (I know it’s Jane Eyre reimagined, but I was getting strong Rebecca vibes too).
One thing I loved about the book was all the fabulous references to the original. If you noticed, most of the names either come from Brontë’s novel, or are tweaked versions. For example, our Jane is also an orphan, but rather than going to a crappy boarding school run by corrupt Mr. Brocklehurst, she was in a crappy foster home with a negligent Mr. Brock. I don’t want to give too much away, especially about Jane’s past because her secrets were so tantalizing and it was so interesting to find out what she was running away from.
I also loved the relationship between Eddie and Jane. There’s one hundred percent attraction there, even some mutual liking, but not the love that you found between the O.G. Jane and Mr. Rochester. In fact, it kind of felt like they were playing each other the whole time. There was just so much nuance there for a “romance” book, especially when you consider Bea, who clearly takes up a lot of various characters’ attention.
Jane herself was another fabulous part of the book—I’m going to be honest, I don’t remember Jane Eyre that well, since it’s been a while, but I know a lot of people (and the author too according to the book extras) end the book feeling a little… meh. I think that’s fair. It’s a Victorian novel of love and drama and a bit of action. From what I recall, that Jane had some gumption, so for her to just “Reader, I married him” left people wanting more from what I’ve seen. So it was really satisfying that our Jane was tuff—I mean, she really stands up for herself at one point, (gotta love pineapples 😉 )and I don’t think Eyre would’ve done the same thing.
And as for Bea. Oh, her character was fabulous. Like I said, I got some strong Rebecca vibes because all the other “real housewives” were always bragging to Jane about how awesome Bea was and how much they missed her. At one point, Jane realizes she’ll never be one of them unless she gets married, but then she’d still be compared to her. But unlike Rebecca, or Jane Eyre’s Bertha, we got to hear from Bea. I’m a combination of third person “flash backs” (the bulk of the story is first person) and first person “diary” entries, we hear Bea’s side. At one point, we also hear a bit of Eddie’s perspective. It’s not that I “don’t like” first person narrative—I really do, it works well for a ton of stories—it’s that I LOVED how we got a fuller picture of what happened. It’s not “he said she said.” It really immersed us into the drama of what’s at the core of the book.
So, between the characters and the writing style/multiple perspectives, I LOVED this book and definitely recommend!
That’s all I’ve got for now; next week I’ll be reviewing From This Soil, a collection from Broken Spine by Casey Bailey! Very excited to check out this chapbook that’s due to be officially released July 30.