Audiobook Review: The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (January 5, 2021)
Length: 8 hrs and 40 mins
Author Information: Website
The Wife Upstairs is one of the most buzzed about thrillers of 2021, and you might be wondering why. Well, to start, one doesn’t often find a hook as tantalizing as a modern retelling of Jane Eyre set in Alabama, teasing an atmosphere of gothic mystery meets southern charm.
In the story, our main protagonist Jane is a dog walker for the wealthy residents of Thornfield Estates, one of the most exclusive gated communities in Birmingham. Flat broke and on the run from a dark secret in her past, she came to this southern city to lie low while she decided her next steps. What she did not expect, however, was to meet the charming and handsome Eddie Rochester, a recent widower who lives in the same upmarket neighborhood where she works. Experiencing an immediate spark, Jane is thrilled when Eddie buys a puppy and becomes a client. Pretty soon, one thing leads to another, the two begin seeing each other romantically, and not long after that, Eddie asks her to move in.
And just like that, Jane hatches a new plan. Tired of surviving on odd jobs, petty thievery and running smalltime cons, she sets her sights on making Eddie hers. Inheriting his dead wife’s successful southern lifestyle company has made him fabulously wealthy, and with all that money, Jane could simply make her past problems disappear. It also doesn’t hurt that she is developing some very real feelings for Eddie. So, when he finally gets around to proposing to her, it doesn’t even feel like a lie.
Still, lately Jane has been learning more about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Eddie’s wife, Bea. The late Mrs. Rochester had been presumed drowned along with her best friend Blanche after the two of them disappeared in a tragic boating accident. But then the friend’s body is eventually found with new disturbing evidence, and Jane can’t help but become suspicious. After all, she’s no stranger to doling out lies and deceit. Might Eddie be more like her than she would like to admit?
Before I continue, I must confess to not having read Jane Eyre, though I am familiar enough with the story. Still, at the end of the day, I’m not sure it matters. There are certainly parallels and similarities to the original, most notably in some of the names of characters and places, but the bulk of the twists and turns are Rachel Hawkins’ own creation. The Wife Upstairs is a mystery about hidden agendas, secret identities, and concealed pasts. Jane shares a similar background as her namesake in the classic—orphaned, growing up in a miserable foster home, abused and neglected until she aged out of the system. However, she is also upfront about Jane not being her real name and candid about her contempt for the rich ladies she works for, relishing in stealing from them. We’re dealing with some pretty unpleasant characters here, and it’s a wonder Hawkins was able to drum up any sympathy at all for her protagonist—perhaps just enough. It helps that she may have met her match in Eddie Rochester. Of all the characters in the book, I enjoyed the spin on him the most. Jane’s certainly not the only player in this game of wits, and the questions surrounding Eddie just makes the stakes feel higher.
I also thought the setting was clever, particularly the integration of southern society into the mystery plot. The people are rich, beautiful, perfect, and none more so than Eddie’s late wife. No matter what Jane does or who she marries, she knows she will never be accepted by the other ladies or be a match for Bea’s elegance and success. Despite the novel’s Jane Eyre inspiration, comparisons to Rebecca are also apt here, and incidentally, the treatment of the original source and writing style reminded me very much of The Winters by Lisa Gabriele, another reimagining of a classic. The Wife Upstairs definitely falls in the same family of retellings, so if you enjoy that kind of novel, this one might also be worth checking out.
However, by its very nature, the book’s strengths are also some of its weaknesses, among them the predictability of the story and its unavoidable clichés. While most of Hawkins’ new takes are fresh and interesting, a few of them are also awkward and don’t work too well, especially towards the ending. It just seemed like things should have ended with more of a bang, or with a better twist and a more consequential conclusion.
That said, I would still recommend The Wife Upstairs if you’re into thrillers and are curious about its hook, especially since Jane Eyre retellings are somewhat rare. The audiobook was also an enjoyable listen. There’s a lot of talent in the narration, with Emily Shaffer, Kirby Heyborne, and Lauren Fortgang (of whom I am a big fan!) all delivering fantastic performances.