By A.J. Finn, A serviceable thriller and homage to Hitchcock's Rear Window
This book has been popping up everywhere, like everywhere, and I love a good mystery. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn is a psychological thriller that has been compared to books such as The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl. It jumped to #1 on the bestseller lists upon release, fueled by a bidding war for the book (and accompanying film rights). Sounds promising, no?
Within the first few pages, it’s abundantly clear why there were so many The Girl on the Train comparisons. The set up seems oddly familiar. It opens with a woman who is voyeuristically looking through a window at other couples and people that she seems to have taken a deep interest in. Meanwhile, the woman herself is an isolated and depressed. She misses her estranged husband and is still in contact with him. Didn’t I just read this book? you can’t help but think.
Anna Fox, a former child psychologist, is agoraphobic as result of post-traumatic stress disorder. When the novel opens, it’s been around a year since she’s left her house, though her husband and daughter are no longer living there.
She’s depressed and drinks heavily and is on a medley of prescription drugs. Like The Girl on the Train and Hitchcock’s Rear Window, she believes she witnesses a crime, which serves as the central mystery of the novel. Anna is a lover of old movies — the classic black and white ones are the best, she tells us — and the many references to Rear Window indicate the homage is clearly intentional.
The Woman in the Window vs. Girl on the Train
As to whether or not you’d prefer Girl on the Train over this book, is probably a question of taste. On one hand, the Woman in the Window’s Anna Fox is a more developed character than the protagonist of The Girl on the Train — her state of mind and story and emotional arc overall is more fleshed out and a lot more satisfying.
On the other hand, the Woman in the Window moves a little slower in the initially because of that more fleshed-out character development. The first hundred pages or so proceed relatively slowly for a novel marketed for the thriller genre. Once the mystery aspect of the novel kicks into high gear, though, it begins to move along at a pretty quick clip.
I read Girl on the Train not too long ago, and the similarities between the two books were distracting for me in the beginning. Being led around by a narrator who was drunk and incapacitated all the time, unable to process what she remembered or thought she saw, was frustrating the first time around; I don’t know that it’s an experience I’d necessarily recommend twice in a row.
Book Review (and Controversy)
Despite my initial misgivings, when the mystery really gets underway, I found myself being drawn in. When the novel’s first real twist happens, I was surprised and pleased. The second half of the book sped by. The Woman in the Window twists and turns throughout the second half; some parts of it are more predictable than others, but even if you aren’t shocked at each turn, it’s a fun ride if you’re someone who enjoys trying to piece together or guess at what’s going to happen next. I figured out a pretty major plot twist fairly early on, but I still enjoyed the ride.
A.J. Finn is a pseudonym for Daniel Mallory, a former book editor for William Morrow, so the writing is predictably solid. In terms of the technical stuff, like pacing, etc. I have no qualms.
Like many thrillers, there’s a contrived quality to the story — plot elements shaped a little unnaturally for the purpose for having the mystery play out in a specific way, as opposed to for believe-ability or whatnot — and there’s still a few things that didn’t entirely make sense to me in the novel. For example, when Anna Fox reports what she saw to the police, for some bizarre reason, before they’ve even asked her about it, they bring in the person she is accusing and then ask her about it with them present? What type of detective operates like that? But I think these complaints are somewhat standard for most thrillers, and I don’t think they detracted from the story.
There’s also been a fair amount of controversy regarding A.J. Finn. See the New Yorker article here (about him lying about his background; Sophie Hannah makes an entertaining appearance in this, if you’re a fan of hers I’d highly recommend checking it out) and the New York Times article about plagiarism.
(Despite all the drama, it looks like another A.J. Finn novel is still on track.)
The Woman in the Window Movie Adaptation
The book is getting a movie adaptation starring Amy Adams and Julianne Moore. It was originally slated for a October 4, 2019 release, but test audiences found it confusing, so it has been pushed to 2020, pending reshoots and edits.
For all the details, see the Everything We Know About the Woman in the Window Movie.
Read it or Skip it?
All in all, I thought The Woman in the Window was a perfectly serviceable mystery/thriller. I liked it slightly more than the Girl on the Train, but not by a lot. I’d recommend it if you are a fan of the genre (it helps if you have not read the Girl on the Train). Probably won’t end up being your favorite book or anything, but a good pick to scratch that mystery/thriller itch. For everyone else, you might like it, but will probably end up thinking it is a little over-hyped (which it is).
Did you read it or are you planning on reading it? What did you think and would you read another book by this author? See The Woman in the Window on Amazon.
Where you surprised by the ending or did you see it coming? Did you think it was a good twist? How did it impact the way you saw the rest of the story?
What do you think about the use of protagonists who are substance abusers? It seems to be fairly common right to in mystery novels -- why do you think that is? Do you like it as a narrative device or no?
How plausible did you think the book was? Did that have an impact on your enjoyment of the novel?
What similarities did you see in this book with the movie Rear Window that it pays homage to?