Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 600
A.J. Finn's The Woman in the Window is a best-selling domestic thriller/noir. The novel is part of a trend in this genre also demonstrated by novels such as Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train and Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.
A salient element that fuels the novel's plot is Anna's psychological instability. Just as the Russell family is not as they seem, Anna is a child psychologist and not currently practicing, as she is consumed with agoraphobia and substance abuse. Confined to her house, she becomes obsessed with her neighbors and witnesses what appears to be Jane Russell being stabbed to death. When Anna goes to the police, they do not believe what she saw due to her psychological state and substance abuse. They find out that Jane is still alive, and she is not the woman Anna believed to have been murdered. To explain this, Anna becomes convinced the Jane that remains living is not the real mother and is part of a coverup of Jane's murder.
To make things worse for Anna, the police uncover a shocking truth: Anna's husband and daughter, whom she does not live with and talks to daily, are actually dead. The author reveals that Anna had been in a car accident the previous year which killed her husband and daughter, and Anna believing they are alive is a symptom of PTSD. Anna now questions everything about reality, and only when Anna finds a picture of the murdered Jane on her phone does she believe she was right. After significant turmoil over psychosis, Ethan confesses to having a personality disorder and sneaking into Anna's house at night. He also reveals that Jane killed his birth mother, Katherine, and that Anna would be his next murder victim. Following the elements of domestic noir, Anna's discoveries destroy the supposedly perfect Russell family, and she kills Ethan by dramatically pushing him through a skylight.
Anna's perception of events and her internal reflections are influenced by her preoccupation with classic American noir films. She also notes that her neighbor shares the name of 1940's sex symbol Jane Russell. The most prominent themes in the novel are murder, "gaslighting," mental illness, and substance abuse. Psychologists assert that psychological disorders and substance abuse are often experienced together. Anna has PTSD-induced psychosis, Ethan has a personality disorder, and his birth mother, Katherine, was addicted to drugs when pregnant with him. The Russell family "gaslights" Anna in order to cover up Katherine's murder. This term refers to the exploitation of an individual in which one is lead to question their reality.
The main symbols associated with Anna are her camera, computer, and wine. Anna's camera represents her agoraphobia; she frequently uses the zoom lens to spy on people in their homes, which later presents as irony when Ethan reveals that he sneaks into her house every night. Anna's computer also represents her agoraphobia, allowing her to survive when she virtually never leaves the house, and, along with her camera, is her "window" into the world. The wine Anna drinks daily is her means of dealing with her PTSD and blocking out the trauma she experienced as a result of the deaths of her husband and daughter.
In terms of writing style, the author provides pieces of information gradually throughout the plot, with twists every so often that further the suspense. Anna's first-person narrative is that of an unreliable narrator, which allows the reader to question reality alongside Anna. The events occur in the present tense, which also contributes to the impression that readers are experiencing the story with the protagonist.
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