AJ Finn talks us through the inspiration, influence and experience of writing his debut novel The Woman in the Window. Get ready for the biggest thriller of 2018…
In the summer of 2015, six weeks before I began writing The Woman in the Window, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Worst birthday ever. For many people, this would have signaled the beginning of an arduous journey; for me, it marked the end of one. By this point, I had grappled for more than fifteen years with severe depression, which infested and infected all aspects of my life: my relationships, my studies, my career. And in grappling with the illness, I resorted to every treatment imaginable: medication, meditation, talk therapy, hypnotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy… but nothing provided lasting relief. Then my diagnosis was corrected, and a new drug regimen prescribed. A month and a half later, I felt significantly improved—and liberated to pursue a creative project. That project was The Woman in the Window, a novel in which the protagonist, not incidentally, is a depressive.
No one wants to read about depression. It is, by definition, depressing.
But here’s what I love about crime fiction: Readers can enjoy the ride—the twists and turns, the reversals and—yet often there’s a thoughtful, unexpected subtext or context spring-loaded in the narrative: Gone Girl’s exploration of matrimony and misogyny, for example, or the moral peril of vengeance in The Count of Monte Cristo. I spent years studying detective fiction as a doctoral student at Oxford, and reviewed suspense novels in a variety of publications on either side of the Atlantic; I’ve also worked in publishing for the past decade, with a focus on this very genre.
So when it came time to examine my own struggles in print, I knew I wanted to do so through the lens of a thriller.
I’ve loved detective stories my whole life, from Agatha Christie and the Hardy Boys in my childhood to Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell in my teen years; later still, as an adult, I’ve thrilled to the work of Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Kate Atkinson, among others. And my zeal for classic cinema dates back to my lonely adolescence, when I would spend countless weekends camped out at the local arthouse cinema, gorging myself on film noir retrospectives and Hitchcock marathons. The Woman in the Window takes its cue from those beloved novels and films.
That’s how the story started. To see how it ends, please dive in.
What did she see?
It’s been ten long months since Anna Fox last left her home. Ten months during which she has haunted the rooms of her old New York house like a ghost, lost in her memories, too terrified to step outside.
Anna’s lifeline to the real world is her window, where she sits day after day, watching her neighbours. When the Russells move in, Anna is instantly drawn to them. A picture-perfect family of three, they are an echo of the life that was once hers.
But one evening, a frenzied scream rips across the silence, and Anna witnesses something no one was supposed to see. Now she must do everything she can to uncover the truth about what really happened. But even if she does, will anyone believe her? And can she even trust herself?
The Woman in the Window is published in paperback on 27th December 2018.