St. Martin's Press, 2021
Crime Fiction/Thriller; 304 pgs
This novel was every bit the enjoyable read as everyone told me it would be. It was the winner of my February 2021 poll, and it did not disappoint. Touted as a modern Jane Eyre re-telling with a twist, The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins certainly has several parallels to the original Charlotte Bronte novel, but it is also a very different novel that stands well on its own--so you don't have to be a fan or to have read the Classic to appreciate and enjoy The Wife Upstairs.
Jane Bell grew up in foster care and is trying to escape her past. She has a plan and she is determined to do what it takes to get what she wants. She has found her way into the Thornfield Estates in Alabama, a wealthy gated community, where she walks dogs for the bored housewives who have better things to do--like shop and plan charity events. No one notices the little things that disappear when Jane is around--an earring here or there, perhaps a watch or a bracelet. And no one ever questions whether Jane is who she says she is.
Jane finds exactly what she is looking for when she runs into the recently widowed Eddie Rochester--or rather, he almost runs into her with his car. Eddie is everything Jane wants. Rich, single, and available. The two hit it off immediately and one thing leads to another. Jane's plan is working perfectly. But she is haunted by the memory of Bea, Eddie's wife, who seemed almost too good to be true, a rags to riches story, well-liked and well-loved. And then there are the questions surrounding her disappearance and death. She and her friend had died in a boating accident. It was an accident, right?
I know I am not supposed to like any of the characters--they all are rather pretentious and self-centered, but I could not help but like Jane. Perhaps it was sympathy for all she'd been through as a child, but I also liked her grit and perseverance. There was a naivety about her, just the same. Especially when you stand her up next to the charming and polish of other characters in the novel. I also kind of liked Eddie, ever so charming and yet not quite hiding a strong approach-with-caution vibe underneath it all.
I did not want want to put this novel down; it was such a fun read. It doesn't take itself too seriously either, which I think is part of its charm. Even when I suspected the direction the novel would go, whether I was right or wrong, I enjoyed finding out every step of the way. And I loved the ending. I was not sure how everything would turn out, but it felt right for the story Hawkins was telling us.
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