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The Wife Upstairs


The Wife Upstairs

I’ve really enjoyed Rachel Hawkins’ YA books, particularly her Royals series, so I was eager to pick up her adult debut, inspired by one of my all-time favorite works of fiction, JANE EYRE. THE WIFE UPSTAIRS is a clever, modern-day thriller that uses Charlotte Brontë’s novel as its jumping-off point but quickly heads into darker territory.

In Hawkins’ version, Jane is an underemployed twenty-something who recently has arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, after a youth spent traveling among various foster and group homes. There, she rents space from John, a creepy church youth minister with a disregard for personal boundaries. After a brief stint as a barista for an upscale coffee shop, she now makes ends meet (more or less) by walking dogs for the residents of Thornfield Estates, a pristine gated community. She also has a habit of committing petty thefts against her employers, and so far she’s been lucky enough not to get caught.

"THE WIFE UPSTAIRS...stands on its own as a gothic-tinged thriller, one where bright colors, big hair and perfect manners hide more than a few dark secrets."

Jane is disdainful of most of Thornfield’s residents, though she is intrigued by Eddie Rochester, especially after the two share an accidental encounter and he seems equally interested in her. Soon Eddie gets a dog of his own (an Irish setter named Adele), and Jane has a new client --- and, before too long, a new boyfriend.

Eddie and another Thornfield Estates resident, Tripp Ingraham, are grieving widowers. Both of their wives have disappeared and are presumed dead after a boating accident at the Rochesters’ lake house. Eddie’s wife, Bea, was the founder and CEO of Southern Manors, a website and catalog company offering consumers the full Southern lifestyle aesthetic, from cocktail glasses to cocktail dresses. She and Blanche Ingraham had been friends since childhood, though --- if neighborhood gossip is to be believed --- their relationship had become strained in the months leading up to their disappearance.

As Jane and Eddie’s relationship accelerates, Jane tries hard to fit in with the Thornfield Estates crowd, all while attempting to tamp down secrets from her own past and quashing her growing suspicions about Eddie’s role in Bea’s disappearance. And then there are those mysterious thumping sounds from upstairs.

As Hawkins mentions in her acknowledgments, THE WIFE UPSTAIRS is perfect for anyone who “got to the end of JANE EYRE and thought, ‘Honestly, Jane? You could do better.’” Here, Jane’s story is both thoroughly satisfying and consistently surprising, right to the novel’s final pages. Obviously those who are JANE EYRE fans already will delight the most in the little Easter eggs that Hawkins sprinkles throughout the book. However, THE WIFE UPSTAIRS also stands on its own as a gothic-tinged thriller, one where bright colors, big hair and perfect manners hide more than a few dark secrets.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 22, 2021

The Wife Upstairs
by Rachel Hawkins