I first read Jane Eyre, By Charlotte Bronte, sometime in high school, and it has remained one of my favorite novels. It has everything a reader needs in a gothic thriller. There is a plain orphan who grows up and is hired by a handsome widower who lives in a mansion in the English countryside. You root for Jane — who runs into obstacles again and again — throughout the book. It has a happy, yet unexpected, ending.
Rachel Hawkins, author of The Wife Upstairs, gives away any surprises simply by comparing her novel to Jane Eyre, something she does in her foreward. She loved Jane Eyre just as I did. Hawkins took on the difficult task of writing a novel with a comparable storyline.
Hawkins’ Jane escapes her past by running away to Birmingham, Alabama. She barely makes a living by walking dogs in a neighborhood of made up of newly-rich 30-somethings. She subsidizes her salary by stealing their jewelry that she knows the bored housewives won’t ever miss. Jane looks at her employers with a mixture of loathing and envy.
That changes when she meets Eddie Rochester, a handsome widower whose wife died in a boating accident. The two of them hit it off, and before she can say McMansion, he has asked her to move in with him and make the house her home. But it’s hard to get past Eddie’s wife’s legacy. Bea was brilliant and beautiful and the owner and CEO of a popular line of home goods and jewelry. Still, his interest in her seems real, and, after all, he gave her free reign to use his credit card. And he has even proposed to her. She begins planning their wedding, when she discovers a big surprise.
Jane Eyre and The Wife Upstairs have similar stories. The difference, however, is that Charlotte Bronte’s Jane was a sympathetic — even loveable — character. The fiery Mr. Rochester was heartbreakingly sad and sexy. The best friends — Helen, in particular — were good women who endured tough lives.
On the other hand, Hawkins’ Jane is inherently unlikeable. Her so-called friends are shallow and back-stabbing. Even Hawkins’ Mr. Rochester is dull and uninteresting. Nevertheless, the author’s writing is very good, and the story — while predictable — still kept me interested.
I can’t enthusiastically proclaim it to be the best thriller I’ve read this year, but I would recommend it to those who like thrillers, even if it’s just to see how the Other Half lives.