When I first saw the title, and without knowing anything about the book, I was immediately reminded of Jane Eyre, and Mr. Rochester’s crazy wife imprisoned in a third floor attic room. Then, I opened to a page prior to Part I, and there’s a quote from Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, an excellent read. I thought that was interesting. Then, I turned the page and Part I is titled, JANE.
This confirmed it. The Wife Upstairs is a contemporary mystery story that in some way mirrors the outlines of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, Jane Eyre, but set in Alabama, not England; from English Gothic to Southern Gothic
Jane is a dog-walker for wealthy clients in Thornfield Estates, an exclusive neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama. She is not at all like Brontë’s Jane. Although she was an orphan, she’s profane, scheming, irreligious. One day, she is almost run over by a young man in a sports car. His name is Eddie Rochester. We learn that his wife has been missing along with his wife’s best friend, for more than six months. His wife’s name is Bea neé Mason; her first name used to be Bertha. And the similarities mount.
TWU / JE
Jane / Jane
John Rivers / St. John Rivers (both involved in religious work)
Blanche Ingraham / Blanche Ingram
Eddie Rochester / Edward Rochester
Bea (Bertha) Mason Rochester / Bertha Mason Rochester
Helen Burns / Helen Burns
Thornfield Estates / Thornfield Hall
And more …
I should have paid more attention to the characters and their JE link and it would have helped me to foresee some of what happens in the novel’s denouement. Of course, there’s a fire. But a twist that happens and which I could have foreseen, I didn’t.
“Reader, I married him” becomes, “Reader, I fucked him,” — which I thought was crass, and again illustrated that Hawkin’s Jane is not at all like Brontë’s Jane.
Still, The Wife Upstairs is a page turner, and for those who love Jane Eyre, it is doubly interesting, even approaching clever.
By the way, another “don’t miss” new book is Shuggie Bain, the 2020 winner of the Booker, by Douglas Stuart. I will try to get a review posted soon.