Dr. Anna Fox is your typical 2010s psychological thriller protagonist. Much like the women before her—Amy Dunne in Gone Girl and Rachel Watson in The Girl on the Train—Fox is an unreliable narrator; an alcoholic like Watson before her, and in an unhappy marriage like Dunne. Separated from her husband Ed and daughter Olivia, Anna is an agoraphobic who gets her kicks out of recording her neighbours with her Nikon camera and watching classic movies. However, one day, Anna sees more than she bargained for when she’s spying on her newest neighbours, the Russells, and her world is suddenly turned upside down. A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window is a book that has a lot of hype—Stephen King and his son, as well as Gillian Flynn, have been raving about it, and it’s due for the Hollywood treatment soon—but does it live up to it all? Put, simply: Nope.
The Woman in the Window is the first book by Daniel Mallory under his gender-neutral pseudonym A.J. Finn, and was published in January of this year. Finn sees the book as an homage to Hitchcockian thrillers, with the most obvious being Rear Window, however there is also a film noir of the same name as this book from 1944. However, you don’t have to enjoy the works of Alfred Hitchcock, or even classic movies, to be able to enjoy this one, though some of the references may be lost on you. This doesn’t seem to bother the people at my local library, since there was a forty-strong wait list for the book when I got my hands on it. Due to my procrastinating reading Devils Attic by Vicki Adrian, I had less than a week to read this book, but somehow managed to read all 430-odd pages in two days. A feat, I tell you, but it left me completely exhausted!
The Woman in the Window starts off strong. You’re feeling for Anna, who is depressed, has crippling agoraphobia, drinks merlot to function, and it appears her husband Ed has custody of their daughter Olivia. You’re mistaken. Anna is not a likeable protagonist, and though you know she’s correct and is—for the most part—not imagining things, it doesn’t make it any better. I predicted the first major reveal pretty early on—the “truth” about Ed and Olivia—and it appears A.J. Finn enjoyed the plot twist of We Need to Talk About Kevin so much he felt he had to implement it into his own work. It’s fine to do that, but it definitely didn’t make it a surprise when the truth came out. While I was expecting the “truth” about Ed and Olivia, it didn’t make the reasoning why any less shocking.
The second plot twist: Now, that’s my problem. You’re definitely not expecting it, and I think almost everyone reading the book was thinking it was Alistair Russell who was the Big Bad. Ha. However, it’s not nearly as shocking as Finn makes it seem. As someone who’s read far too many of these Gone Girl knockoffs, so so many of these go for the same, out-of-the-ballpark ending: The Girl Before by JP Delaney and Into the Water by Paula Hawkins go the exact same route. You think it’s this person who is clearly obviously the killer/baddie? Well…you’re wrong…it’s actually the Nice Guy! “Ha ha, the audience is very surprised!” laughs Author of Psychological Thriller. The Woman in the Window is no exception. You think Alistair Russell is the villain and…BAM! A.J. Finn reverses the roles and shows Mr. Russell as a “victim” of circumstance.
For the most part, The Woman in the Window is unoriginal, and regurgitates a lot of its plot and characters from previous psychological thrillers. The writing is one part to be remembered; Finn has a beautiful, poetic writing style without being overdone, though it is a bit strange that Anna, a child psychologist, thinks in such a poetic manner. Despite not having watched very many Hitchcock movies (Psycho, Rebecca, The Birds) and having watched only some of the other classics Finn referenced (Gaslight, etc), it was interesting to have them all mixed and interlaced with the plot in a giant homage. Despite the cheesy, silly reveal at the end, I did enjoy how Anna discovered the truth via her knowledge of classic thrillers and chess moves (her two loves, other than wine).
Anything else? You probably won’t expect the reveal about Jane Russell, except maybe you will. There were clues, clues I’d seemingly forgotten and came back to me, like “Oh yeah! The locket!” But I was wondering why Anna didn’t just head straight for her Nikon camera the moment she had her Gaslight moment by the friendly detective Little and his asshole co-worker. You’ll probably stop liking Anna in any respect after it’s revealed how she developed her agoraphobia. The plot twist with Good Guy and Grandma Lizzie is not surprising—I was just expecting her to be Jane One for some reason, but close enough. There’s also this terrible paragraph, which just screams MALE ALLY:
The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn is just what you’d expect from a 2010s psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator: it’s fast paced, simple to read, and the narrator (this time, Anna Fox) was correct about there being something off. If you want originality, you’d best stick to Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, but this is a good, quick read. It does touch on the topics of mental illness (Anna has depression, anxiety and agoraphobia, which are written well and not too cliched) and the classic movie references keep the book from being stale and forgettable. While most of the plot twists are expected, you’ll want to keep on reading so that Anna can prove everyone wrong, even though you begin to wonder why you’re defending Anna after all she’s done.