Book Review: The Woman In The Window, A.J. Finn

I almost didn’t buy this book.

Having not previously heard about this book, or the author, I picked it up and gazed over the synopsis on the back cover. Almost immediately, I put it back. To me, it felt like a rehashed and cliche story. ‘Protagonist sees crime from window of apartment and has to uncover mystery’ – it was Rear Window all over again. ‘Woman whom everyone believes is crazy is sole witness to unspeakable crime’ – The Girl On The Train. I wasn’t interested, however not being able to find anything else in the very tiny Sydney Airport book store that piqued my curiosity, I googled the title and found overwhelmingly positive reviews. Perhaps there was more to this story than the synopsis suggested? I bought it, and finished reading it within a day.

‘The Woman In The Window’ is the debut novel from New York resident A.J Finn, previously responsible for articles in some of America’s top publications. The story follows lead character Anna, an agoraphobic, alcoholic, middle-aged woman confined to the safety of her inner city apartment after suffering a terrible tragedy months earlier. In an effort to pass time and keep somewhat connected to the outside world, Anna resorts to watching neighbours from her window. When a new family moves into one of the apartments adjacent to hers, Anna is immediately drawn to them. One night, Anna hears a terrifying scream from the new neighbours’ apartment, and subsequently witnesses a horrible crime. As the sole witness, Anna’s version of events are continuously kiboshed by the family’s patriarch, the extremely controlling Alistair. With no evidence to work on, the police are forced to believe Alistair over Anna. Anna takes the matter into her own hands, and begins the investigation to uncover what really happened that night, and discovers things aren’t always as they seem! As Anna uncovers more and more about what happened, it unravels truths about her own life, and threatens to questions everything she thought was real.

The most impressive aspect of the book for me was the psychological side to Anna’s condition. The PTSD style episodes of Anna’s agoraphobia were so well written, and continuously kept me guessing about what the truth was – both about Anna’s life and about the crime she witnessed. Is Anna’s reality blurred by her debilitating alcoholism? Is she telling the truth about being an agoraphobe? There is always a sense of doubt over some of her choices throughout the book, which make it an incredibly interesting page-turner. Further to that, the way Finn has structured the supporting characters around Anna was superb, each feeding a new piece of reality/fantasy into Anna’s life. To me, that’s what set this book apart from being just another retold story, to being something unique and original.

Anna’s relationships with her supporting characters, particularly her family, continuously keep the reader guessing about which turn the story will take. They are important characters in the narrative, and it’s this fresh and original perspective on broken families that really make this story work well. Finn constantly take us back to the tragedy in Anna’s life that made her become so reclusive, yet each time peels back another layer of information that succeed in keeping a good sense of scepticism in the reader about what we’ve previously been told.

A good crime fiction book needs to have significant plot twists in order to keep the reader guessing. I must admit that I didn’t guess the major one in this book at all – which was pleasantly surprising. I didn’t find it all that far-fetched either, which unfortunately can be the downfall of many plot twists. It’s not incredibly original, but it’s believable and it works – and it’s done right.

I’m interested to see how the movie adaption turns out (yep – already!), which will star Amy Adams in the lead role, and personal favourite Gary Oldman as the sinister Alistair (which I am very excited about). As far as movie adaptions of well-written crime fiction go, there haven’t been many which have hit the mark, so all fingers crossed that this one can get it right.

‘The Woman in the Window’ is an impressive debut, and a good read. It’s one of those books where you can quite easily recommend to any reader and have faith in their enjoyment – after I had read it, I immediately passed to Mum, who after reading it immediately passed to my sister-in-law. It’s worth your time, and I’ll be very excited to pick up Finn’s next addition to what will surely be a very extensive writing career.


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