The Woman in the Window
A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window is being touted as THE psychological thriller of 2018. It’s gotten a ton of rave reviews, and there’s even a film in the works. So when I was offered a review copy, I jumped at the chance to see what all the hype was about. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed the story, I didn’t find it as spell-binding as I had hoped.
Former child psychologist Anna Fox is dealing with an intense case of agoraphobia and hasn’t left her house in almost a year. She spends her days playing countless games of online chess, watching classic movies, and taking pictures of her neighbors through her windows. She’s a heavy drinker who also happens to be on quite a few prescription medications, not at all a good combination, but something that doesn’t seem to concern her very much at all.
When the Russell family moves in next door, Anna finds herself oddly fascinated by them. Something about them reminds Anna of the life she once shared with her husband and young daughter, who she no longer sees for reasons that are at first unclear to the reader. As her obsession with the Russells grows, she is forced to re-examine her life and the tragic event that reshaped it.
Then, one night as she is watching the Russells and enjoying a bottle of wine, Anna witnesses a shocking act of violence that shakes her to her core – but will she be able to convince anyone that what she saw actually happened? What follows is a twisty tale that will leave readers uncertain of who to trust as Anna struggles to unravel the truth from her own cloudy perceptions.
This novel had a lot of potential, but falls short in the execution. For one thing, it’s made up of nearly one hundred very short chapters, some of which contain only a few words. Sometimes, short chapters work well, but here they serve only to give the story a choppy feel that I found distracting.
I was also somewhat put off by the author’s decision to pepper the story with bits of dialogue from classic, black and white movies. I’m guessing this was supposed to add to the overall creepiness factor, but it didn’t work for me. I’m not at all knowledgeable about old films, and so the dialogue was pretty meaningless. Readers who enjoy them might feel differently though.
Having said all that, there are several aspects of the story that work really well. Anna is a multi-faceted – if incredibly unreliable – narrator, and I enjoyed spending time with her. It’s obvious she’s endured a great deal of trauma, and I was eager for her to find some peace and healing in her life. Her excessive drinking and misuse of medication is sometimes annoying, but she’s still a character I found mostly sympathetic.
The novel contains several excellent twists that I in no way saw coming. There were a few things I was pretty sure I had figured out, but I ended up being wrong about almost all of them. Mr. Finn definitely kept me guessing until the very end of the story, and, in my opinion, that’s the mark of an excellent thriller.
If you’re put off by excessive descriptions of violence, The Woman in the Window may be a good choice of book for you. Obviously, since this is a mystery, some bad things do happen, but the author is sparing in his descriptions. The violence is alluded to rather than described in painstaking detail, and I found this to be a refreshing change.
So, while A. J. Finn’s debut isn’t the best mystery I’ve ever read, I’m happy to recommend it to fans of psychological thrillers with flawed heroines and complicated plots. It was a pleasant way to spend a few hours, and I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for more of Finn’s work.