The Wife Upstairs

This month has been all about Jane Eyre and retellings of it! Following my reread of the classic and a retelling called Mr. Rochester, my last stop of the “Janeuary” readathon is The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins. This southern gothic gives Charlotte Brontë’s story a modern makeover and moves it into thriller territory. If you wanted more about Bertha and her strange situation, this is the book for you.


Jane is on the run from something unspeakable in her past, and she’s landed in Birmingham, Alabama. She’s using a fake name and earning money under the table as a dog walker for the wealthy inhabitants of Thornfield Estates. Soon, Jane meets a recent widower named Eddie Rochester, and they quickly jump into a romantic relationship. Jane is having a hard time adjusting to the elite world he lives in, and she can’t ignore her growing unease about what really happened to Eddie’s wife, Bertha. In a story of suspense, rags-to-riches, and moral grayness, The Wife Upstairs is a twisty reimagining of Charlotte Brontë’s beloved classic.


Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels of all time, and while I’m a sucker for Jane’s complicated relationship with Mr. Rochester, the gothic mystery is equally captivating. It lends itself well to the thriller genre, and there are several such retellings I’m hoping to read. My first choice was The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins. Here, the suspense and thrills are ramped up in a modern southern gothic.

Perhaps most surprising for me is how different Jane’s character is here. Instead of the morally upright and meek woman we all know and love, this Jane is scrappy and morally gray. She’s a bit of a kleptomaniac, she’s lying about her identity, and she’s not above tricks to get ahead in life. Here, she walks dogs named Adèle and jumps into whirlwind romances with recently widowed men with hardly a second thought.

Jane’s relationship with Eddie Rochester escalates quite quickly, partially because Jane is using this as a form of escape from her troubled past. But Eddie’s past is equally troubled, if not more so. What actually happened to his late wife? One secret we readers know early on: She didn’t drown in that lake.

Interspersed throughout the book, we get insights into Bertha’s life. We learn of her rags-to-riches story of entrepreneurial success. We get to see her meet-cute with Eddie. But we also see the aftermath of things gone completely wrong. The pieces aren’t all there yet, but the puzzle is slowly coming into focus, and who exactly it incriminates may be a surprise.

The Wife Upstairs is a domestic suspense, and it’s done well. I liked some of the twists and found myself feeling shocked a few times. The ending though… I’m still not sure what to think of it!

Final Thoughts

More than a retelling of Jane Eyre, The Wife Upstairs is loosely inspired by it, drawing out one theme and pushing it even further. The author pays her respects to the original work with familiar names and places, even if the characters here are markedly different from their Victorian alter-egos. This is a strange and intriguing thriller, and I look forward to reading more from Rachel Hawkins.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Get the Book

You can buy The Wife Upstairs here – it’s available as a hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
Retelling Of…Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
GenreThriller; Southern Gothic
Number of Pages304
Format I ReadHardcover (BOTM)
Original Publication DateJanuary 5, 2021

Official Summary

A delicious twist on a Gothic classic, The Wife Upstairs pairs Southern charm with atmospheric domestic suspense, perfect for fans of B.A. Paris and Megan Miranda.

Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates––a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.

But her luck changes when she meets Eddie Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie––not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for.

Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past––or his––catches up to her?

With delicious suspense, incisive wit, and a fresh, feminist sensibility, The Wife Upstairs flips the script on a timeless tale of forbidden romance, ill-advised attraction, and a wife who just won’t stay buried. In this vivid reimagining of one of literature’s most twisted love triangles, which Mrs. Rochester will get her happy ending?

About the Author

Rachel Hawkins - Credit John Hawkins

Credit: John Hawkins

Born in Virginia and raised in Alabama, Rachel Hawkins has been writing since Kindergarten when her first book, a tense thriller involving a unicorn, a witch, and a princess, was called, “very imaginative!” by her teacher and “a searing work of genius” by her mother.

Since then, Rachel has written over a dozen books for children and adults (sadly all unicorn-free thus far), and been published in more than twenty countries. As Rachel Hawkins, she wrote the New York Times bestselling THE WIFE UPSTAIRS, a Southern Gothic twist on JANE EYRE that the Southern Review of Books called, “a thrill ride,” and Entertainment Weekly dubbed, “a gothic thriller laced with arsenic.” Her latest thriller, RECKLESS GIRLS, also debuted on the New York Times list with Kirkus calling it, “a soapy, claustrophobic page-turner.”

When not writing modern Gothic thrillers as Rachel Hawkins, she also pens paranormal romantic comedies under the name Erin Sterling. Her debut romance, THE EX HEX, was a Book of the Month pick as well as a New York Times and USA Today Bestseller.

Rachel currently lives in Auburn, Alabama with her husband, son, and five cats. (Yes, five. She knows.). In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and picking up an assortment of creative hobbies she will give up on after a week or two. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

More Books by Rachel Hawkins

Rachel Hawkins - Reckless Girls
Rachel Hawkins - The Villa
Erin Sterling - The Ex Hex

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