There is a closing paragraph that has only worked once, and that was back in 1985*. All variations on it – and there have been more than a few – should really see the books that feature it either pulped, or at the very least sent back for a slight edit before being released on a public hungry for the opposite of the cliché. Such is the case with The Woman in the Window, a The Girl on the Train-cum-Rear Window-cum-entire Golden Age of Cinema pastiche: it has an ending that is unforgivable.
But how did we get here, to this imperfect conclusion? The Woman in the Window is touted as “the thriller of 2018”, and it is easy to see how it will capture the imagination of a reading public that devoured The Girl on the Train and tore through Gone Girl – although it does not distinguish itself as well as either of those. One could be forgiven, simply from looking at the covers and blurbs of the recent spate of unreliable narrator led thrillers, that there is a definite trend in publishing. But they’d be right: there is a definite trend.
Anna Fox hasn’t left her expansive Harlem home for the ten months since a traumatic incident rendered her agoraphobic. Augmenting her solitary existence through counselling people on the “Agora” forum, watching black and white movies, and consuming a lot of red wine, Anna’s only contact with the outside world is by watching the people in her neighbourhood from her windows. When she becomes fixated on the new family across the street, she thinks she sees something, but how can she be sure?
The Woman in the Window is an incredibly hifalutin example of a disadvantaged thriller protagonist: were it not for her pre-existing wealth, there is no way that Anna would be able to remain in a five storey New York apartment without any visible source of income. She’s had personal tragedy, certainly, but she is at least able to stay sheltered, fed, and clothed. This emphasises that she’s a prisoner more of her own mind than of society – although one could argue that her privilege itself holds her back more than if she had fewer choices.
For an unreliable protagonist, Anna seems much more in control of her senses than, say The Girl on the Train’s Rachel, but not so obviously malevolent as Gone Girl’s Amy. Pseudonymous author A.J. Finn is never less than respectful of Anna’s condition, the diagnosis of which is entirely valid. It’s therefore not entirely clear how much of The Woman in the Window Finn thinks is supposed to be twisted or surprising. A late stage reveal could be picked up on by all but the most bovine of readers, who didn’t need to be drip fed information. The subtext has to become text for the sake of the narrative, but it is difficult to tell if one is supposed to be surprised by it; it’s not that Finn is a bad obfuscater, but rather that her clarity of prose almost betrays her. Anna is not very good at doubt, and we’re given little reason to doubt her.
The Woman in the Window is an arresting novel that can’t keep you guessing, but it’s undeniable that one wants to know what will become of Anna and will stick with her to the end. Finn has created a world that will be foreign to many readers – many of whom can barely afford one storey living arrangements, let alone four – but it can come to feel like a suffocating room of one’s own. On top of that, you can’t come away from The Woman in the Window without having composed a list of classic cinema to eagerly consume: Gaslight for everyone!
The unreliable woman narrator driven thriller isn’t keeping the publishing industry afloat, but one could be forgiven for feeling like it is. With a strong promotional push behind it, including the acknowledgment that it was optioned as a film long before hitting the shelves, The Woman in the Window is almost certainly going to do well. Outside of his final paragraph, Finn eschews cliché in favour of genre hallmarks, which are markedly different things. Anna Fox may be too straightforward to be a protagonist for the ages, but she’s going to keep a lot of readers satisfied enough to start 2018 with.
*32 year old spoiler that is relevant because it was one of the more popular reads of 2017: The Handmaid’s Tale.