I received an e-arc from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.
triggers: abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, fire, murder, imprisonment, alcoholism
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins is a 2021 release and a retelling of Jane Eyre, following a young woman who enters into a relationship with a wealthy man to avoid her past and ends up uncovering the unsavory details of his own.
I’ve not read Jane Eyre. A few months ago, I DNF’d it for the third time (after never getting past the first chapter) and decided to just cut my losses and move it over to my read shelf (because it matches my edition of Frankenstein and I think they look nice together). But it was a thriller by an author who I had enjoyed in the past. Admittedly, I had loved her contemporary sapphic romance and not anything in the vein of this book. But, nonetheless, I requested the book and wanted to love it.
My main issue with the book is the wasted potential. It is a book ripe with the chance for intrigue or the chance to say something or both. The book starts strong if not a bit slow. There’s a slow ease into the tension. At the very start, it could very much be a contemporary but the tension builds slowly, in part due to the fact that everyone by now knows the twist of Jane Eyre: the wife is the attic. It was a masterful use of the fact that no matter what this book did, the big twist was already laid out on the table.
However, after the slow start, it speeds up incredibly. There is no ever-creeping building of tension. There is no time for the reader to sit down in the discomfort. It just speeds through it all in favor of giving cheap thrills rather than offering a truly lasting and engaging story. I finished the book minutes before I started this review and even now, the middle is already blurring, not more than a few vignettes that never accounted to much.
The plot itself is not too strong. I am not one to criticize thrillers for being predictive. It’s in fact something that I seek out but this book, despite being unlike most other things I have read, felt formulaic. Reading it, especially the ending, reminding of books I liked more, books that actually engaged and entertained me. I thought of Gone Girl. I thought of my Lovely Wife. And then I was just sad I wasn’t reading those books.
There also is not a plot twist to save this book. If anything, the plot twist is what ruined it. It is not something that is built up to. Barely was there any foreshadowing for it. I think, had it been handled better, it might’ve saved the book for me. But the plot twist did not solve any puzzles I was trying to piece together. Instead, it presented me an entirely solved puzzle and expected that to be fun for me.
Another source of wasted potential is the characters. There are three characters we focus on—Jane, Bee, and Eddie. Of the characters, I would say that Jane is the most compelling, and she is the character that we spend the most time with. While we get points of view from the other two, she remains the primary POV and the character that anchors the story. From the start, it is teased that she has a dark backstory and once the reveal comes through, it’s so incredibly boring and lackluster. It was built up and up and then there was nothing much to it.
Bee and Eddie do not have much going on. They are manipulative and murderous and in love with each other. Their entire characters are based around a relationship that is not built within the story itself and that is barely shown in the book itself. Throughout the entire book, there is never a clear image of the relationship and thus never a clear image of the characters themself.
By the end, I was simply disappointed. If you want to read this book, I won’t try to stop you but for me, it was a largely unsatisfying and frustrating read.