My First Book of the Month Pick: The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

The Wife Upstairs

After a couple of years considering joining Book of the Month, I finally did it! I was so excited to get my first blue box. Picking my first book was not easy, but when I read about a new book that is a reimagining of Jane Eyre, I couldn’t say no.

When I heard the title The Wife Upstairs, it definitely reminded me of Jane Eyre and for good reason. The Wife Upstairs is a contemporary reimagining of Jane Eyre set in the American south, Birmingham, Alabama to be specific. I’ve always loved Jane Eyre. I read it once in my twenties at my mom’s insistence that it was an amazing book (she was right!). Then I read it a couple more times in college while studying women in literature and English literature. Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite protagonists. In a time when women, especially young ladies, were expected to be silent and compliant, she was vocal, independent, and brave. Realizing that The Wife Upstairs drew inspiration from this classic and personal favorite, I couldn’t wait to start reading.

The protagonist, Jane, truly a “Plain Jane” if ever there was one, is on her own in the world, hardened from a rough upbringing. After a chance encounter with a very attractive, very wealthy man, she finds herself thrust into a whirlwind romance. But the dream soon resembles a nightmare when Jane learns that Eddie Rochester’s wife has been missing for months and is presumed dead. Rumors swirl throughout their elite neighborhood, Thornfield Estates, and soon everyone is questioning everything they think they know.

The pros:

This was a fast-paced book with lots of action. There is a good mystery to be solved, and I kept guessing through most of the book. The author does a good job of throwing in red herrings and keeping you unsure of whodunit. The chapters were short and action-packed. Hawkins wasted no words but used every sentence to move the story along.

The cons:

The author drops F bombs like they’re going out of style. I expect a certain amount of profanity when reading secular novels and truthfully, if it’s used in the right way at the right moment, it can really pack a punch in the story. Initially the F words were used exclusively by Jane as she narrated her story. I thought it might the author’s way of showing just how hardened and tough she’d become due to her difficult upbringing. But I was wrong. Soon every character was dropping F bombs and there was clearly nothing strategic about when and where they were dropped. I’m guessing the author is a chronic swearer in real life and this just carried over into her writing. It’s unfortunate because it really became quite distracting and truly took away from the story.

Second, this is an entertaining novel for sure, but it’s not great literature. Not that I expected anything other than a suspenseful bubble bath book or beach read, but when you go into a book with the likes of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre in mind, you just expect a little something more. Hawkins attempted to pay homage to Bronte in the book, even using Bronte’s signature style of addressing the reader directly at one point. However, this is another thing that was not executed well or at the right time. When I read the words, “Reader, I f***ed him,” I’m pretty sure I heard Ms. Bronte roll over in her grave.

Lastly, I was disappointed in the ending. Well, really with Jane in the ending. This is difficult to discuss without giving away any spoilers. Let’s just say that by the end of a novel, I expect the main character to have changed, grown somehow. Jane didn’t. Her circumstances changed, but she felt like the same character she had always been. I never really connected with her truthfully. Because of her past, Jane keeps people at arm’s length, never letting them too close. Unfortunately, Hawkins did the same thing with her readers (at least with this reader!), never giving me a chance to know the real Jane and connect with her.

I wonder if I’d feel differently about this book if I didn’t have such love for Jane Eyre going into it. I do think that even if you’ve never read Jane Eyre you can easily read and enjoy this book. You won’t pick up on certain things like names or events that are taken from Bronte’s novel, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get caught up in the world Hawkins created.

So, all in all, an entertaining read, a suspenseful mystery, and a great beach or poolside read for the summer. Have you read The Wife Upstairs? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! I’ll be starting my May Book of the Month soon and I have several books that just came in at the library for me. So stay tuned for more reviews as I dive into Spring and Summer reading!

As always, happy reading! – Kait

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