Wednesday, 29 April 2020

The Woman in the Window - A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window - A.J. Finn

Publisher: Harper Collins


Pages: 427

The Woman in the Window is a not entirely revolutionary, but quite gripping thriller in the vein of
The Girl on a Train, which as we all know is just a rip off of Rear Window. Anna, the narrator of
The Woman in the Window, is an agoraphobic addict, who spends most of her time watching old
movies, playing online chess and watching the neighbours through the windows of her New York
townhouse. Like Rachel in The Girl on the Train, Anna’s substance abuse issues render her an
unreliable narrator. Anna mixes her medication with copious amounts of Merlot, leading her (and
us) to be unsure if what she experiences is real or dreamed up by her imagination. I think I would
have gotten a lot more out of this device if I hadn’t already read The Girl on the Train, but
unfortunately because I had, it just felt a bit overdone. 

My favourite aspect of the book is the atmosphere created by A.J. Finn in Anna’s house. Anna is
an old movie buff, and constantly plays old black and white films throughout the course of the
novel. That coupled with Anna’s spooky, empty house creates a very mysterious atmosphere,
perfect for a thriller in which the narrator feels she is losing her mind.

I’m not a huge thriller fan, and I’m not very good at seeing twists in advance, so bear that in mind
when I say that I didn’t see most of the twists coming. Though the first half of the book was a bit
slow, it sets up a lot of important background, essential for the action packed second half, so stick
with it.

All in all The Woman in the Window is a pretty solid thriller, suffering from the misfortune of
resembling The Girl on the Train  a little too much. 

Three and a half stars

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

First, We Make the Beast Beautiful - Sarah Wilson

Publisher: Bantam Press

Published: 2018

Pages: 307

Firstly, while I loved this book, I’ll acknowledge it is not for everyone. If you don’t like it 50 pages in, you’ll probably never like it. The book is a combination of a memoir and tips and tricks for dealing with anxiety. It’s clear that Wilson has done a huge amount of research for the book (or for her life with anxiety in general), a lot of which includes cold-emailing people she’s read or heard about to pick their brains. It’s not structured linearly, Wilson dips into the different times in her life that helped illustrate the concept she’s talking about. There’s not a huge amount of structure at all really, the book is like a long conversation with a friend who says “listen…. this is everything I know”.

The main difference between how Wilson treats her anxiety and the way it’s viewed
by the medical community is that Wilson sees it as a personality trait to be embraced
and managed, rather than an illness to be treated. The book low-key felt like lists of
tips and tricks for forgetful people. Wilson doesn’t view anxiety as a thing to get rid of,
it’s just a personality trait that you have and can manage.

While I didn’t identify with everything Wilson has experiences, (and under no circumstances am
I even considering giving up sugar), there was plenty I did connect with. Basically what I took
away from this book is that we all need to start meditating.

This book isn’t for everyone, but I got a lot out of it.

Four Stars

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Conversations with Friends - Sally Rooney

Image result for sally rooney conversations with friendsPublisher: Faber & Faber

Published: 2017

Number of Pages: 321


I put of reading Conversations with Friends,  because I felt it may hit too close to the bone while I was
studying in Dublin. And I’m glad that I left it because it definitely triggered me a tiny bit.

Firstly Sally Rooney’s writing is excellent. It’s sparse yet effective, even if her method of writing
dialogue takes getting used to. The characters themselves are wonderfully written. They are not
very likable, but they are very real. Frances, the protagonist, and Bobbi her ex-girlfriend/best friend
and probably the most so, but so are most of the cast. I personally don’t much care if the characters
are likeable or not, more importantly Frances, Bobbi and the rest of their cohort are realistic. They
make very poor yet realistic choices, they fuck eachother over and help eachother out, and effectively
illustrate the intricacies of modern relationships. I didn’t really care if they were unlikeable, they were
memorable and told a great story. Bobbi and Frances may also only be considered so unlikable
because they are women, I thought Nick was just as annoying but in a different way.

Personally, I found Rooney’s depiction of Dublin’s ‘Champagne Socialists’ extremely realistic. Both
Fances and Bobbi romanticise the idea of not working, and the idea of poverty itself. But when
Fances’ father stops sending her allowance, not only does she struggle to survive, but she’s ashamed
of having to work to support herself. She hides her newfound poverty from Bobbi, who has a wealthy
family supporting her, and her boyfriend Nick. When Nick, who has a fair bit of money himself, finds
out that Frances is struggling financially,he helps her out. But this only serves to create tension in their
relationship, as Frances hates that she depends on Nick, and becomes obsessed with paying back
everything she owes him. Bobbi also has an interesting and hypocritical relationship with the 1%.
She also ‘hates’ the rich, but is bankrolled by her rich father and fits in among the upper middle class
seamlessly due to her privileged upbringing. Unlike Frances, she may never actually have to work,
but only because she has her rich family propping her up. Establishment money also supports Melissa,
the ‘free spirit’ writer/photographer. She humours Valerie, her patron, despite Valerie’s bitchy
behaviour, and openly tells Frances she only puts up with her because she backs her financially.
Through Melissa’s relationship with Valerie, Rooney illustrates the unfortunate dependence of artists
on their benefactors, and how this relationship conflicts with their political principles.

I think Rooney does an excellent job addressing the disconnect between how the characters view
themselves and how they are seen by others. Bobbi and Frances both think that the other is more
interesting. Whenever Bobbi and Frances attend a social event together, Frances is very conscious of
the way Bobbi behaves, how she holds people’s attention and fits in easily. However, Bobbi tells
Frances that she is the more interesting one of them, and that their friends are more interested in
speaking with her and hearing what she has to say. Frances and Nick also misinterpret each other
frequently, both of them think they come on two strong and that the other is distant. Melissa believes
that Frances is disgusted by her middle class lifestyle, but Frances is really just jealous of her.

Conversations with Friends  is a quick and engaging read, if you’re not bothered by annoying
characters I would highly recommend it.

Four and a half stars.