You should know that The Woman Upstairs by Hawkins is a modern retelling of Jane Eyre. Look, I hate Jane Eyre. Like, with a passion. Jane as a person bugs the hell out of me, Edward is whatever, I don’t care about his ward, or any of the cousins. The only person I have any time for is Bertha Rochester. She’s the “crazy” one upstairs. If you have somehow not read Jane Eyre, first of all, congratulations.
Secondly, it goes like this:
Jane is an orphan. She has an orphanage bestie who dies. Jane ages out of the system and gets a job at the Rochester place as governess or tutor or whatever to Edward’s ward. Jane and Edward make google eyes at each other, and he finally asks her to marry him. But while all this is going on, little fires keep popping up in the Rochester estate. Everyone is like, “No biggie. It’s the 1800s. Shit just catches on fire.” The wedding day is finally upon us, and some dude ruins it by being like, “Hold up. Steady Eddie here is already married to my sister.” Jane, for some reason, is overcome by embarrassment and runs away from home. After about half an hour on the outside, she’s destitute and half dead when a crew who turn out to be her long-lost relatives take her in. The Rochester abode eventually burns the hell down, killing Bertha Rochester, the wife, and injuring Edward in the process. He and Jane get married.
Here’s my problem. Everyone is like, “Bertha crazy, y’all.” Maybe, and just hear me out, part of the reason she keeps trying to set everyone ablaze is because she is literally a prisoner. Bertha just needs a good meal, some Vitamin D, and to be let out of her prison. She’s not crazy, she’s pissed.
So, I hate the whole book. Jane is on my nerves, and I care way more about Bertha Rochester, which leads me to the retellings. I keep waiting for a rendition where Bertha is given her moment to shine. I thought The Wife Upstairs might be it. I absolutely don’t want to give away any plot twists but, while I ultimately liked it, it wasn’t the Bertha love story I was hoping for. Maybe I just need to write one my damn self.
So, The Wife Upstairs. Jane – if that’s even her real name (it isn’t) – grew up in the foster system, and now she is an aggressively mad dog walker. I will say, her initial tone and attitude were a turn off, but I got over it pretty quickly. Also, I did the audio version and, occasionally, southern drawl was a little more Foghorn Leghorn than it needed to be, but I was interested enough to look past that, too. But am I? Guys, I know we have a distinct accent. I get it. But we don’t all talk like cartoon roosters or someone from the show Swamp People.
We have all our key Jane Eyre characters: Jane, Helen, Edward, Bertha, John Rivers. They’re all present in pretty creative, modern takes on their original selves.
Jane and Edward both have some secrets. Bertha, who goes by Bea, is a successful designer, owner of the Southern Manors brand. She and her bestie, Blanche, have a frenemy situation going on. There’s plenty of underhanded shade.
So, basically, the drama is there. The plot twists are there. It’s a good read, probably the best Jane retelling I’ve read to date. Until, of course, I write my ode to Bertha. My tribute to the woman who is ALWAYS, ALWAYS cast as the villain. I mean, she might be crazy, but she for her story to be told.
So, check out the book. Let me know what you think.