Monday, September 4, 2023

The Other Wife by Juliet Bell


When you find out you have six Jane Eyre retellings or spinoffs on your Kindle, is there any other recourse but to binge-read them all? 

I was telling a friend on Goodreads when you're writing a Jane Eyre retelling you basically have two options: crime drama or romance. Gothics can really be adapted either way and I don't think either of them is wrong, even though the romance reader in me will be screaming and slamming fists if I don't get my HEA.

In THE OTHER WIFE, Juliet Bell (brilliant pseudonym btw, iykyk) opts for the former. Set in the 80s, in the Australian Outback, she made the interesting choice to tell the story in dual POV. In one telling, you have Jane: a closeted queer woman who grew up on a hippie commune, only to be sent to live with an abusive aunt and cousins before being shipped off to a British christian boarding school where she has an F/F romance that ends in tragedy. In the other telling, you have Elizabeth/Betty, Edward's first wife: a half-Black orphan, who learns that sexuality is the only agency she has... until she discovers fire.

This is the second book I've read by these authors (Juliet Bell is the pseudonym of two British romance authors writing together). The first one was a WUTHERING HEIGHTS retelling set during the coal miners' strike in the 80s, which was not just a retelling but also an allegory for how the breaking down of the working class causes communities to crumble into ruin. I feel like THE OTHER WIFE is more of a social commentary than it is a romance, because it shows the homophobia of the 80s, the way religion can be used to degrade and abuse, as well as the Aboriginal land-rights movement and anti-Black racism. These are all very sensitive subjects, which end up making this a pretty dark book, but I felt like the authors made an effort to handle the material with care. That said, I would highly urge people to check the TWs and not read this if you are sensitive to SA, racism, or homophobia.

I really liked this book a lot but I'm not sure I'll be rereading it. I'm more team romance than I am team crime drama when it comes to Jane Eyre retellings, but the haunting ending of this book really fit the story the authors told and I'm sure I'll be thinking about it for a while.

"Reader, we let it burn."

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

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