Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Wife Upstairs by Frieda McFadden


This showed up on a list of Jane Eyre retellings. I've said in other reviews that the original Jane Eyre was kind of half-romance, half-thriller, so retellings tend to go either way since most authors can't capture the gothic ambiance of the original... and that's fine. I'm not a purist and I'll happily read either iteration of one of my classic faves.

THE WIFE UPSTAIRS is about Sylvia. The book opens with her saving a woman from choking in a restaurant... but the woman is a scammer who then threatens to sue her for saving her life. A man witnesses the whole thing, stands up for Sylvia, and then they get to talking. He finds out she's looking for a job and guess what? He's hiring. He's a famous novelist looking for a companion for his wife, who was in a terrible accident. She spends all day in the attic room, alone, receiving drugs and food through a tube. Isolated, except for her nurse and the housekeeper.

Sylvia agrees and receives free room and board in the couple's remote estate in Montauk. And right away, things seem fishy. Sylvia finds a notebook in the wife, Victoria's room, which turns out to be Victoria's journal. And what she finds in the journal doesn't quite add up with the account that she's received from the husband, Adam. Worse, it paints a rather dark picture.

Because Victoria might be lying too.

This book was pretty hard to read for a lot of reasons. I just read DRAGONWYCK by Anya Seton and talked about how it had a lot of fat-shaming. This book, THE WIFE UPSTAIRS, has a similar problem, in that it has a lot of ableism. The way that Sylvia talks about Victoria, and the language she uses, is pretty dehumanizing and awful. There's a lot of talk about how pathetic she is, and how she's a shadow of her former self, and how "lucky" she is that Adam didn't "stuff" her in a home. None of these characters are supposed to be particularly likable, so I'm sure that was a deliberate choice to show what assholes the characters are, but it's still jarring to read, and I thought I'd mention it here just in case someone doesn't want to read that, coming from the protagonist.

As for the story itself... it was fine. Other people have said this was a lot like VERITY and I agree that they had a lot of the same tropes. The core stories are different, though, and so are the endings. I personally thought VERITY was a little better and did the whole suspense thing a little better. I found myself skipping THE WIFE UPSTAIRS a lot. Some of the twists are the same, too, so I think if you read VERITY, you probably won't be as impressed with THE WIFE UPSTAIRS. I found myself guessing what was going to happen pretty early in the book. It wasn't exact but it was close enough.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

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