American novelist Dan Mallory (a.k.a. A. J. Finn) (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/feb/15/unreliable-narrators-questions-the-truth-leo-benedictus) has a complex relationship with the truth according to recent reports. This notoriety has not prevented his 2018 thriller ‘The Woman in the Window’ becoming a bestseller. Thrillers have the capacity to absorb our attention, allowing us to forget, temporarily, the grim details of everyday life. This could be the novel for you as we all hurtle towards a UK General Election or constitutional crisis in the Autumn of 2019.
The summary is as follows. Anna Fox is 38 and lives alone in an expensive house in uptown Manhattan. We soon learn why she is so often peering out her window. She is agoraphobic and has not left home in nearly a year, but she delights in spying on her neighbours. Anna drinks bucket loads of Merlot wine, watching black-and-white movie classics such as “Gaslight,” “Rebecca,” “Strangers on a Train” and “Spellbound”.
Anna’s husband has left her and taken their 8-year-old daughter with him. She talks to them by phone and vainly begs him to return. She’s a child psychologist and still advises a few patients by e-mail, but mostly she is alone with her wine, her movies and her cat. She also has a tenant, a handsome carpenter who lives in her basement. His presence injects a bit of ‘will they or won’t they?’ excitement into the story, but mostly she is content to spy on her neighbours.
Then, Ethan Russell, a boy of 16 who lives across the street, arrives bearing a gift from his mother. He is a good-looking, friendly lad: ‘He looks like a boy I once knew, once kissed — summer camp in Maine, a quarter century ago. I like him.’ Anna meets Ethan’s parents, Paul and Jane, and A.J. Finn’s plot kicks in.
The Russells are a troubled family. Ethan hints that his father is violent toward his wife and son. Anna uses her binoculars to learn more, and one day sees what she believes is an act of violence. She calls the police, who investigate and find no problem. They think Anna’s wine consumption – two or three bottles a day – along with the many prescription drugs she consumes, have impaired her judgement. (Anna cherishes George Bernard Shaw’s quip that alcohol is the ‘anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life.’) She continues to spy on the Russells, and dark deeds soon unfold.
As the plot unfolds, descriptions become poetic. Anna recalls ‘Central Park, swans with their question-mark necks, high noon beyond the lacy elms.’ A woman ‘walks west, toward the avenue, the crown of her head a halo in the sunset.’ Thinking of a man she fears, ‘I shudder, wade deeper into my wineglass.’ She mourns that ‘yesterday had faded like a flower.’ And tells us, ‘Now the night has my heart in its claws. It’s squeezing. I’ll burst. I’m going to burst.’ Anna is in a wonderful, and wondering, mess.
It’s no plot spoiler to say that Finn’s characters are not who they appear to be. Nor that his story ends with a series of mind-boggling surprises. I think the The Woman in the Window will entertain you whilst also providing a moving portrait of a woman fighting to preserve her sanity.
Check if this entertaining recent fiction is in stock at your local library by consulting the online catalogue here at https://www.sllclibrary.co.uk/cgi-bin/spydus.exe/MSGTRN/OPAC/BSEARCH
448 pages in Harper Collins
First published 2018