There is an area where I, as a reader, am sorely lacking. I have not read very many of “the classics.” In the past I have said that someday I’d like to tackle Les Miserables, or maybe The Count of Monte Cristo, but much like the Game of Thrones series, I am more than content with seeing the movie/show and find no need to give myself an unnecessary high school reading assignment. The hidden benefit to this is that when I come across a book that is based heavily on a classic, I can read it and experience the story for the first time without my brain constantly comparing it to the original. The Wife Upstairs borrows from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and having never read the original and not being very familiar with the basics, this book was my first exposure to a classic.
The only thing you have to keep in mind about the story through this review is that Bea and her friend Blanche are missing, believed dead. Bea’s husband Eddie and Blanche’s husband Tripp have been questioned about their “boating accident” but no bodies have been recovered. Eddie is actually holding Bea in the panic room in their house for some unknown reason, while he moves forward to court and propose to Jane, who he meets while she is working as a dog walker in his neighborhood.
Everybody good? Ok.
What I found most intriguing about this novel in particular was its portrayal of poor or underprivileged people and the acrobatics they have to undertake in order to find a better life. I identify with the chameleon model, what both Jane and Bea are. The other model here, the parasite, is shown by Eddie and honestly this could describe any man really but I’d rather focus more on Jane and Bea here. The idea is that you change your name or your background (or at least the story you tell people) and embed yourself in the environment where you want to be. You copy other people’s behavior, belongings, habits, until they don’t see you as an outsider anymore, they see you as blended in, part of the scenery, part of the group. If you are a successful chameleon no one will ever ask you questions about where you came from again, because weren’t you there all along?
Now the underbelly of this kind of behavior is that some people come from such terrible backgrounds that they will fight tooth and nail to never go back. Alternatively they will accept abusive relationships in their new surroundings because they are willing to accept the abuse they have over the worse abuse that they used to experience. This is Bea and Jane respectively. Bea is kind of a parasite-chameleon combo, in that she copies and then absorbs her best friend Blanche’s life. Jane is doing her best to chameleon but it’s coming at the cost of her security. She sees her whirlwind romance with Eddie (Bea’s husband) as her ticket out of her past, and she’s willing to put up with his controlling behavior in order to make that happen.
Too often books will put more of the focus on the people lifting others out of poverty, and it was refreshing to have a story put the focus on the people struggling to escape it. I really appreciated this tactic. It made me feel seen in a way that I haven’t really been seen before in a book. Don’t give away all my secrets, Hawkins!
It only took me three sittings to get through this fantastic novel. It’s fast paced, and it’ll keep you guessing until the very end. If you’ve been with Angry Angel Books for a while, you know that I love a book that can keep me guessing because my brain figures things out too fast. When I got to the actual ending I exclaimed out loud “BITCH YOU TRICKED ME!” and that takes some doing. Bravo to Rachel Hawkins! Bravo to The Wife Upstairs! You have to go get this one, and once you have it, you won’t be able to put it down.
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