HarperCollins | 2018 | 448p | Bought copy | Buy the book
Psychologist Dr Anna Fox lives in a glorious, several stories high town house in New York City. It even has a garden on the roof. But for ten months Anna has confined herself within its walls. Very occasionally she has stepped outside for a few steps, a therapist by her side and a protective umbrella clasped in her hand for comfort. But invariably such experiments have ended in debilitating panic attacks. Anna is an agoraphobic and she suffers from the very worst kind. Ironically, she is qualified to advise others with the condition, and she does that daily on an online forum, but she is little able to help herself. Instead, she copes in the best way that she can – playing online chess, watching classic black and white movies, drinking merlot, sitting at her window to watch her neighbours carrying on with their lives, talking to the husband and daughter who left her.
But then one day Anna sees something through the window that shocks her out of the life she’s created for herself. Anna witnesses a murder. But who will believe her? Perhaps she doesn’t even believe herself. But Anna must try and discover the truth of what she saw, for the sake of her own sanity if for no other reason. And she must hang on to that sanity with all her might.
The Woman in the Window is one of those psychological thrillers that has sold millions. This has happened in the past with Gone Girl and The Girl in the Train, two books that I didn’t get along with, and, as a result, I fought the urge to read this latest bestseller, helped by its title, which I really don’t care for. But then I saw it in Waterstones with its yellow sprayed edges and I was drawn to it with a force I couldn’t resist (clearly this type of marketing has a 100% success rate with me). And I am so glad. The Woman in the Window is not at all what I expected. There is so much more to this book than its mystery. In fact, you could remove it entirely and I’d still be engrossed. It’s interesting that the mystery only really takes hold about a quarter into the book. It almost wasn’t needed. Having said that, when it did come along, I was gripped by it. It adds to the tension, to the atmosphere of menace that Anna does her best to dispel in any way she can.
The main appeal of The Woman in the Window is Anna and A.J. Finn’s sensitive, kind, sad and, at times, witty portrayal of an agoraphobic woman’s self-confinement. Anna spoke to my heart and I adored her. Her story may well wring your heart out. It did mine. I cried on the bus. I could hardly stand to read some pages, they are so raw with what Anna has gone through. Yet, despite her agoraphobia and her drinking and pill popping, Anna is a survivor.
I loved the descriptions of Anna’s wonderful, dimly lit house as well as her profound relationship to every bit of its space. When it’s challenged from outside, we understand so sharply how terribly this undermines Anna’s coping strategies. I found some sections of the book genuinely frightening, while, during the first half of the book, I was simply fascinated and charmed by this beautiful, character-filled house.
I’ll say nothing here about the mystery. You may well guess the truth as I did but I don’t think that this detracts from a thing because this is a book about how a woman is held under siege, from without and from within. And we can understand so well why Anna is so consumed by what she sees through that window. I have personal experience of agoraphobia and I applaud how the condition is dealt with here. I really relate to it. There is a minor factual error about Oxford, which I’m sure nobody but me and a few others would notice, but that is the book’s only fault in my eyes!
I was completely engrossed and captivated by Anna and by The Woman in the Window. This is one of those books that, in my opinion, well deserves the hype, even if you might not realise from it exactly what kind of book you’re getting. This is much more than a psychological thriller in my opinion and the surprise of that is wonderful. And then there’s those yellow sprayed edges of the Waterstones special edition… Irresistible.