I received an audio copy of this book from the publisher, Macmillan Audio, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Wife Upstairs is an updated, reimagined Jane Eyre. It’s an interesting twist on a classic story, and I’m loving how many such novels have come out recently and how many more are scheduled for publication soon.
But as with all such books, I think it’s going to be hit-or-miss with lovers of the original. Seeing how Hawkins updated and tinkered with the original characters is fun, especially regarding the supporting cast. It’s her approach to Jane that I had issues with. One of the main draws of the classic, at least for me, is Jane Eyre’s character. She upright and good and wholesome and selfless, all without seeming two-dimensional or unlikely in any way. This Jane is definitely not that one. She’s selfish. Greedy. Shallow. Petty. She steals from the rich for the simple pleasure of it. I did find still her oddly likable, but she in no way measures up to the Jane I love.
That being said, there were a lot of things I very much enjoyed about this book. First of all, the decision Hawkins made with regards to setting was so smart. There’s nothing quite as Gothic in feel as Victorian England, but the American South is the next best thing in terms of atmosphere. Southern Gothic is such an interesting subgenre, and the way Hawkins blended that into a classical Gothic story was noteworthy. The story takes place in Alabama, in a wealthy subdivision called Thornfield Estates. Jane is a dog-walker instead of a governess, which is how she, a broke orphan who has aged out of the system, finds herself in this glitzy neighborhood. It’s here she meets Eddie Rochester, she he almost runs her over in his sports car. Neither of their lives will ever be the same.
I very much enjoyed the ways in which Hawkins tweaked the original plot so that it was still surprising to readers of her source material while not veering far enough from it to lose its resemblance. Even though, or maybe because, I’m very familiar with the novel that inspired this one, there were plot points that surprised me a bit, which made my experience much more enjoyable and entertaining. Also, the audiobook is well narrated, with a different narrator for each point of view. The narrators oozed character into their performances, which made me want to just keep listening.
If you have any kind of sentimental attachment to Jane Eyre, I’m not sure this is going to be the right book for you. But it might be! Finding the ways in which Hawkins tipped her hat to the original adds a scavenger hunt element to an already engaging story. And if you’ve never read the classic, this is a fun riff on it that I think you’ll enjoy for its own sake, but also might leave you intrigued enough to give the original a try.
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