The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins has plenty to offer for those familiar with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. What you might not realize is that it also has vibes from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Given that I continually list both classics among my top five all-time favorite books I have ever read, you can bet I enjoyed every minute of Ms. Hawkins’ story.
Ms. Hawkins does a fantastic job with her Jane Eyre retelling. She does not just modernize the story, but she has fun playing with the characters and settings. All of the characters in the original do make an appearance in The Wife Upstairs but not as you might expect. I loved seeing how Ms. Hawkins changed the characters and settings and made them her own.
At the same time, because Jane knows about Eddie’s first marriage, as well as the constant state of comparison in which Jane finds herself, strongly reminds me of Rebecca. Bea was gorgeous, successful, beloved, wealthy. Jane is not. Jane moves into Eddie and Bea’s house and does little to make any changes to the house to make it her own. At one point in time, Jane even finds herself mimicking Bea’s style of dress and accessories. While there is no spooky and sinister housekeeper to undermine Jane’s decisions, Bea’s influence in her social sphere, now Jane’s, that it is as if Bea haunts Jane all the same.
Jane is a great character. She is not the meek Jane from Charlotte’s story. Instead, she has tremendous street smarts and is particularly people-savvy. This makes her assessment of the country club set in which she now finds herself particularly entertaining and biting. All this to say that she enters into a relationship with Eddie Rochester with eyes wide open. Plus, she does so with her own agenda. After all, after a childhood in the foster system, it makes sense that a comfortable life filled with love is more than a little enticing.
For those unfamiliar with either story, take heart. You don’t need to know Jane Eyre’s story to enjoy The Wife Upstairs because at its heart it is also an exciting Southern thriller. The ending is anything but the foregone conclusion I expected it to be. Instead, I found myself guessing incorrectly at every turn, which is my personal hallmark of a great mystery. Plus, Ms. Hawkins slowly and steadily increases the tension, much like the proverbial frog in a pot. By the time you realize the danger Jane faces, your pulse is already racing and you are fully committed to the story.
The Wife Upstairs is a fantastic book to start the year. Fans of the Brontë classic will enjoy the reimagined version of the story Ms. Hawkins has to tell, and fans of Southern suspense will enjoy the atmospheric mystery surrounding Bea’s death. Ms. Hawkins shows once again that she knows how to write compelling characters and entertaining stories.