The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins is a thriller where every single character is a bad person. A retelling of Jane Eyre, it’s extremely well done and I’d highly recommend that you read it.
If you’re not familiar with Jane Eyre, don’t let that scare you away. This book is extraordinary on its own merit. The only thing you’ll miss is recognizing characters re-written into modern Alabama. I’m going to review the book without comparison to Jane Eyre because it’s compulsively readable whether you have read the original or not.
From the very first chapter, the reader is immersed in an upscale southern neighborhood’s drama, gossip, and betrayal. The main character is Jane (duh). From the very beginning, we all know that Jane is seriously flawed. A dog walker, she compulsively and shamelessly steals from the women she works for. She’s aged out of the foster system and from the beginning it is clear that she is living under an assumed name, running from some kind of past event and that she is afraid of being found.
One day, as she is walking the dog, she is almost hit by a car. A fast, red, expensive sports car. In comes Eddie Rochester, a hot, sexy, flirty rich guy who immediately takes to Jane.
Jane’s anxious to get her hands on Eddie’s money, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s gorgeous. She finds out that recently, his wife and her best friend have gone missing. He’s had his wife declared dead, and is anxious to move on. With Jane. She quickly moves in and immediately begins ingratiating herself to her neighbors, and spending what she finds out is really her predecessor’s money. Eddie’s missing wife was the owner of a mega corporation not much different from the Chip & Joanna Gaines “Magnolia” empire.
Like any good suspense thriller, we learn little by little about the night Bea, the ex-wife, and Blanche, her best friend, disappeared. A night on the lake, a boat floating out alone on the water, and two missing women. The police make an arrest about halfway through the book, but I won’t spoil the ending for you.
What I will tell you is that the book eventually reveals that Eddie is no good, either. His actions are villainous and as we learn more and more about Bea, we realize that she’s not an innocent victim at all. She’s awful too. Her missing best friend? Awful.
It’s basically three villains all double crossing each other, yet none of them knows that the other is a villain. And they’re all villains, so they’re also unreliable narrators, which is one of my favorite types of book to read. This book was basically a fun, deliciously scandalous escape from reality. I highly recommend it – Rachel Hawkins is really good at writing flawed characters. Each one of these characters is basically an awful person, but yet each character has enough vulnerability where you’re kind of cheering them on at different points of the story. They’re all villains, but at times you’ll think to yourself, “He or she isn’t as bad as I thought after all.” The moral ambiguity is extremely well done.
When you do consider the fact that it is actually a new take or retelling of Jane Eyre, the story takes on a whole new level of fun and awe. Five stars.
If you enjoy this type of novel, I recommend you read You are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen.
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