46 pages 1 hour read

A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


The Woman in the Window, a psychological thriller published in 2018 by William Morrow. The novel was written by A.J. Finn, which is the pen name of American book editor and novelist, Dan Mallory. The novel tells the story from the first-person point of view of an unreliable female narrator, Dr. Anna Fox. The reader learns about Fox’s alcoholism, her agoraphobia, and the traumatizing events of her past, all of which take place in present-day New York City and Vermont. The Woman in the Window was an instant success, debuting at the top of The New York Times bestseller list, and the release of the film adaptation of the novel is upcoming.

Plot Summary

The novel, which takes place over three weeks, opens in a New York City brownstone as Dr. Anna Fox, a child psychologist, peers out her window, spying on her neighbors. She compares herself to a wildlife photographer, taking care to stay hidden so that she does not frighten her subjects.

Anna, who is being treated for agoraphobia, spends the majority of her time indoors, watching classic movies by Hitchcock and other famous American directors; as well, Anna is often online, playing chess, commiserating with other agoraphobes, or taking French lessons via Skype. She also passes the time conversing with her husband, Ed, and her daughter, Olivia, both of whom are eventually revealed to have died in the car accident that caused Anna the deep trauma that manifests in her agoraphobic symptoms. Occasionally, when Anna does leave her house, she suffers panic attacks, so Dr. Fielding, her psychiatrist, and Bina, her physical therapist, make regular house calls to ensure that Anna is able to receive treatment for the emotional and physical injuries she sustained in the car accident.

Anna tries to befriend Ethan Russell, the 16-year-old son of Alistair and Jane Russell, who have recently moved from Boston to New York. The Russells have just moved into their townhouse, which is positioned across the park from Anna. Ethan’s seeming fragility inspires compassion in Anna, who misses her work as a child psychologist and her patients, and she grows enmeshed in Ethan’s problems, which include a difficult relationship with his father, Alistair. Anna also befriends Ethan’s biological mother, a young woman named Katie, thinking mistakenly that Katie is Jane Russell, Alistair’s wife; in reality, Jane Russell is Ethan’s adoptive mother, and Anna’s confusion over the matter of Jane Russell’s true identity is the conflict that drives the plot of the novel forward.

When Katie is murdered, Anna believes she has witnessed the act of violence that kills her; however, neither the police detectives who become involved in the case nor her tenant David believe her because Anna refers to the murder victim as Jane Russell, who is still alive and well. Anna’s frequent and copious consumption of red wine, which she mixes with a variety of powerful psychotropic medications, complicate the situation when others see her drunk and disoriented. Thanks to Anna’s self-sabotaging habits, the people who could help her the most perceive her as unreliable. Finally, at the end of the novel, the truth emerges, but only after Anna survives a brutal attack by Katie’s assailant, the young Ethan Russell, whose innocence disguises his sociopathic impulses.  

The novel ends on an optimistic note, as Anna braves the outdoors six weeks after Ethan’s attempt on her life. She is sober and healthfully aware of the obstacles ahead. Anna no longer converses with her dead husband and child, choosing instead to engage with the realities of her present-day existence.

Throughout the novel, Anna mentions her love of film noir and Alfred Hitchcock, through which Mallory draws the comparison between The Woman in the Window and the Hitchcock film, Rear Window. In Rear Window, the main character (played by Jimmy Stewart) is recovering at home with a broken leg. Unable to leave the house often, he spends his time spying on his neighbors, and he comes to suspect one such neighbor of murder. Like Anna, Stewart’s friends are hesitant to believe him, and like Anna, he is vindicated in the end. In an interview with The Guardian, Mallory quoted TS Eliot: “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.”