Book Review: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
April 9, 2015 1 Comment
From the publishers: “Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno—a banker—and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her.
But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.”
Hausfrau: What I thought
Anna isn’t exactly an endearing main character. I found her rather frustrating. She’s been in Switzerland for nine years, but she has hardly any friends, doesn’t speak the language, and the people in the village where she lives aren’t very forthcoming. Or so she thinks. But she hasn’t tried very hard. She’s waiting for something to happen and doesn’t undertake much action herself. Until she starts her German lessons and meets new people. Ex-pats, just like her.
It was both recognizable and totally strange for me. I also spent many years in a foreign country. I spoke the language, I had friends, and made an effort not to get acquainted to ex-pats. But at times, I also felt like a foreigner who stood forever outside the real society. Still, having kids helped, and Anna should have made good use of the mothers she’d meet via her children.
The story is built up really nicely. The story in the current time is often interrupted by flash backs to a few years ago, or sometimes to a few days ago. The flash back to the past make sense, but I wasn’t sure why the author sometimes moved the current story forward by a few days or weeks, and then looked back on the days just before. There were also short paragraphs in which conversations with her therapist were related. The therapist often came with some fantastic insights, but I found her a little too clever. Also, I wasn’t quite sure when Anna actually went to see the therapist. It wasn’t mentioned as part of her daily or weekly program.
Having said that, I just loved the way it was written. Amazing, given that I didn’t particularly liked Anna. But her story was interesting, and I was wondering what would happen. Would her husband find out about her affairs? Would she finally make some friends? The ending was totally unexpected, and I’m not sure I was too happy with it. It was a possible ending, but I did not expect this, and it didn’t seem to be the most interesting conclusion to the story.
While I have some reservations about the story and, especially, about Anna, the main character, I very much enjoyed reading this novel.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (very good)
Number of pages: 328
First published: 2015
I got this: from my local Random House representative