‘The Wife Upstairs’ – Rachel Hawkins

Much as I love Jane Eyre, there are elements within that never quite sit right with me. I often wondered why Jane didn’t show the strength of will and defiance of expectations to really push the boat and do something truly shocking at the end. The whole mad wife in the attic scenario lent a more sympathetic portrayal to Rochester than he perhaps deserved. Yet it’s a book that I deeply enjoy, and I was more than a little nervous when I realised The Wife Upstairs was transposing many of these elements to a modern setting.
Having now finished the book I have to say I really enjoyed it as a concept.
In our version, Jane is running from her past but she is now a dog walker in an exclusive neighbourhood as she tries to find her way into the life she craves. We follow her interior monologue, so we know she has more than her fair share of secrets and that she is just as happy to manipulate someone if it suits her. For this reason, I found myself feeling less concerned for Jane’s welfare than I did in the original. She makes some silly choices and fails to see some potential issues that she really should have factored in.
Our Mr Rochester is Eddie, a charismatic man who is having to live with the mysterious disappearance of his wife, Bea. Neighbourhood gossip reveals a little more to this story than Jane was told, and it was pretty obvious that we would be watching this story unravel over time.
There are, perhaps of necessity, some changes to the original ‘Jane Eyre’ and these do work fairly well. If you read this with no knowledge of the text then you have a great thriller with some well-timed reveals and shocks. Even with those with knowledge of the text won’t be disappointed. I confess to waiting for some of the ‘twists’, but there are still surprises. I also really liked the ambiguity of the ending, which leaves us – and Jane – in a rather difficult position.