Rachel Hawkins’ The Wife Upstairs is a book that I didn’t want to end. I almost regretted reading it, because I knew I’d have a hard time moving on to another book that I’d enjoy as much as I did reading this one. I believe that feeling of regret is called a “book hangover” – when the effects of a really good read linger with you after it’s over, often for ill. But I can assure you, reading The Wife Upstairs was worth the book hangover.
Perhaps people will think my high praise is overdone. But this book had everything I love. It’s told in first person POV, with a mysterious, flawed, yet compelling heroine who tells us her story and makes some fish-out-of-water observations about the wealthy Southern neighborhood she’s stumbled into. The setting – a gated community in Birmingham, Alabama – adds flavor and the description of all that wealth felt quite indulgent, especially the stuff about the homes and the outfits. The supporting characters weren’t two-dimensional, but well-drawn. And the pacing was awesome. The chapters were fairly short, usually ending with some sort of revelation or cliff-hanger.
Most of all, I love reinterpretations of classic stories. The Wife Upstairs is based off of Jane Eyre. Jane, in both stories, is an orphan. Mr. Rochester falls in love with her; this also happens in both stories, though in The Wife Upstairs Mr. Rochester is mostly referred to as Eddie, and he’s a handsome widower with a mysterious edge. And, in both stories it is revealed that Rochester is, in fact, not a widower, but that he keeps his first wife – whom everyone believes to be dead – trapped upstairs in a secret room. Rachel Hawkins made the room in question an escape room, hidden out of sight to everyone who doesn’t know about it. Of course, Charlotte Bronte had the not-dead wife in her story hidden in the attic.
That’s where the similarities end. Hawkins reveals that there’s a “wife upstairs” early on, and several of the chapters focus on the wife (Bea/Bertha) and her story. Those chapters reminded me of Gone Girl – in that you didn’t know who to believe, the scheming husband or the scheming wife. Yet all the while I worried for poor Jane, who is also a self-described schemer. But is she engaged to a murderer?
Rachel Hawkins did an excellent job of creating a modern, suspenseful love-triangle-murder-mystery, while staying true the classic that inspired it. I wholeheartedly recommend this book!