In The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins, we learn right away that Jane is a shady character with ulterior motives.
Here’s a quick rundown of the plot:
She works as a dog walker for the fabulously rich but also despises them. So much so that she steals little trinkets from her employers. She wants to be part of them; she envies their wealth while at the same time resenting it. Her mentality is akin to “if you can’t beat ‘em, hate ‘em.”
Jane sees her entrée into that world through Eddie Rochester. He’s the neighborhood widow of a bordering-on-legendary woman, Bea, who owned a boutique store called Southern Manors (think of a Scruples or Draper James-type of store) that hit it big and made her rich.
Eddie represents everything that Jane wants. He’s rich…I guess that’s all that he needs to be to fit Jane‘s criteria, actually.
We learn from the beginning that Jane has ulterior motives along with a mysterious, sordid past. She is hungry, starving, RAVENOUS for this rich life and the security that it brings.
On the one hand, Jane is a somewhat sympathetic character with her past as a foster kid. It’s easy to understand why is she would want that sort of financial security.
But there’s something more sinister lurking beneath her motivations. Jane is not just a poor girl wanting to make good and lock in her security. Rather, she seemingly wants to trample everyone in her efforts to get to the top. Even in her dealings with the neighborhood’s women, whom, let’s remember, she despises but wants to emulate, there’s a constant undercurrent of scorn that she feels towards them.
Spoiler-Free Questions Still Unanswered
It’s clear what Jane sees in Eddie: money. He’s her ticket to a better life, and that’s the draw. It’s a strong enough one to understand her motives.
But I never do understand Eddie’s attraction to Jane. They meet cute when he almost runs her over with his car. But what is the appeal? I don’t see any sort of passion between the two of them.
They seem like the oddest of couples and not the odd that somehow makes sense. It’s more of a pairing that leaves one asking, “How? Why?” Maybe the process of their falling in “love” is summarized and glossed over too much.
Jane describes herself as plain and lets her upwardly mobile mask slip enough to be somewhat visible to Eddie. He is not a stupid man. So if it’s not beauty, it’s not her (lack of) charismatic personality, and it’s not money or any other defining characteristic, then what the heck does Eddie see in Jane? Why does he fall in love?
Also difficult to understand is Eddie’s possessiveness of Jane, on the verge of being stalkerish. One could only make those kinds of moves if he were utterly obsessed with her, and following her was his full-time job. Despite this, Jane somehow has a lot of free time in which she gets away with a lot of other things. How?
I also don’t understand Jane’s obsession with becoming equal with the neighborhood wives. She already has the money, the man, the wealth. Why is she so obsessed with getting in with these women she loathes?
It can’t be just to prove something to herself. The wealth and security are what drives Jane, not necessarily the social standing with the women. She focuses on her social life sometimes to the detriment of her relationship with Eddie. It’s difficult to understand her motivations in that regard.
Comparison to Jane Eyre?
Many have called this a modern retelling of Jane Eyre. I don’t know if that comparison does justice to either of the books. Of course, it can’t stand up against the classic. I prefer to judge The Wife Upstairs as a standalone.
On its merit, minus the misgivings I mentioned above, it’s a pretty good story. I didn’t buy the romantic relationship between Jane and Eddie. Though the author could have further developed Jane’s character, I’m still happy to have spent time with these wicked folks.
The Wife Upstairs
Published January 2021
St. Martin’s Press
(affiliate links – I earn a few pennies if you click!):