The device of the unreliable narrator has been in use since the earliest days of literature, beginning with the ancient Greeks. Modern authors including Edgar Rice Poe, William Makepeace Thackeray, Agatha Christie, and Vladimir Nabokov have famously used the device for dramatic effect. Much more recently, the unreliable narrator has vaulted onto American bestseller lists with such books as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Paula Hawkins’ The Woman on the Train, and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace. Among recent imitators is the pseudonymous A. J. Finn with his #1 New York Times Bestseller The Woman in the Window, the latest unreliable narrator novel.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Though the novel is the author’s first book, it could hardly have attracted more favorable reviews. Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, and the New York Times raved about it. And the Washington Post called it “a beautifully written, brilliantly plotted, richly enjoyable tale of love, loss and madness.” But I wouldn’t go that far. It’s well written, all right. And the plotting is extraordinarily clever. But I found the two principal revelations in the book entirely predictable, and I had difficulty understanding the narrator’s actions from time to time. It just didn’t seem to me she could possibly be so stupid at times.
The Woman in the Window is narrated by Anna Fox, a Ph.D. child psychologist who lives in an upscale, five-story townhouse in Harlem. Anna is agoraphobic and a drunk. (The term “alcoholic” just doesn’t get the point across.) Her only human contact is with the physical therapist who visits once a week, the handyman who lives in the basement, and the psychotherapist who has prescribed a battery of heavy-duty psychoactive medications. Sometimes Anna forgets to take the drugs. Other times she doubles up the dosage, always washing them down with the merlot she consumes by the case. She spends most of her time spying on the neighbors through her windows, using a telescopic lens on a Nikon to follow their comings and goings.
The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn ★★★★☆
New neighbors have just moved into the house across the park—a husband and wife and their teenage son. (“The deed of sale posted yesterday. My new neighbors are Alistair and Jane Russell; they paid $3.45 million for their humble abode.”) As usual, Anna tracks their movements through her camera and checks them out online. Soon after they arrive, she witnesses Jane Russell stagger toward a window, something silver sticking out of her chest with blood all around it. Should you be surprised that when she attempts to report the crime, nobody believes her? Don’t be. That’s the point of the story.
A. J. Finn is the pen name of Daniel Mallory, who left his post as executive editor at the publisher William Morrow to take up full-time writing after his own company unwittingly bought the rights to The Woman in the Window from his agent. It’s an irony fitting for the history of this unreliable narrator novel.
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