Tuesday 8 May 2018

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn - book review

A. J. Finn's debut novel The Woman in the Window has been riding high in the bestselling charts, and having read it, I can see why. Finn's story blends classic ingredients of psychological suspense with an unreliable narrator, excellent plot twists, and (especially in the early part of the book) compelling prose. There are a lot of books in this vein at present, but this is one I can safely recommend.

The premise of the story owes a great deal to the master of the emotional thriller, Cornell Woolrich: it's really lifted straight out of Rear Window, and Finn cleverly makes a virtue out of this borrowing by having his narrator, Anna Fox, talk endlessly about film noir. Anna is confined to her apartment by agoraphobia, and whiles away her time by spying on her neighbours. Needless to say, the day comes when she sees something shocking - but when the police come on the scene, her account appears to be incredible, and nobody believes her. What on earth is going on?

Although the premise is familiar, what Finn does with it is so cunningly thought out that I'd better not say too much about the way the storyline develops. I felt that Woolrich and his French disciples Boileau and Narcejac (Vertigo, based on their most famous book, is naturally referenced in this story) would not only have recognised the way Finn sets up his mystery, but also admired it. The question then is: can Finn resolve the puzzle he's created without letting us down? Woolrich in particular often struggled to avoid anti-climax, but I think Finn does an excellent job in tying up the loose ends. Having read this skilfully crafted novel, I wasn't in this least surprised to discover that Finn was an experienced book editor.

Finn's real name is Daniel Mallory, and I've been interested to read interviews in which he's discussed his experience of misdiagnosed depression - a topic I touched on the other day in the context of writers and wellbeing. That experience has evidently fed into his presentation of Anna, a deeply troubled woman, who seems to me to be portrayed very effectively. Yes, I enjoyed this book very much. The real challenge for Finn is now simply this: how can I improve on my excellent debut? 

No comments: