Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.
Hausfrau seems to be that next book that all the book bloggers are losing their minds for.
I would like to be different, but I’m not and for good reason! This book is fantastic!
Anna Benz is a Swiss housewife. That is, she lives in Switzerland with her Swiss husband and their three Swiss children but she is American and doesn’t quite fit in. She doesn’t have a bank account, she doesn’t drive so she relies on the train system to get her anywhere, she has made no effort to learn German in the nine years she’s been in Switzerland and she doesn’t really have any friends. Despite being surrounded by people, she’s alone.
So in an effort to make her life more exciting, she embarks on a series of sexual adventures. She takes the train into different towns and meets men and sleeps with them in their apartments or in hotel rooms. There was Stephen, the visiting American scientist that she fell a little in love with, Archie from her German class who inserts himself a little too fully into her life, and Karl who is a childhood friend of her husband’s. These are the ones that are named. Anna goes to therapy to try and work through why she is so unhappy and self destructive but in order for therapy to be successful one has to be honest with one’s therapist and Anna isn’t.
I read this when I had already heard other people rave about it and initially I was skeptical. I wasn’t sure that I was connecting with Anna – I mean she’s not really a great person. But then it clicked that that’s actually the point. Who among us is not flawed? Some of us are just more flawed than others and Anna is one of those people. She is out of her element, she is alone, she likes where she lives but she also hates it and because she doesn’t speak the language well she’s isolated socially.
Jill Alexander Essbaum is a poet and this is her first novel. The writing is poetic – there is a certain cadence to the sentences and the story is broken up into shorter scenes: Anna with her therapist, Anna in language class, Anna with her husband’s family. And while each section is completely different in terms of subject matter and characters present there is unity to these sections – they all relate to each other seamlessly and beautifully.
Anna isn’t likeable. She is making terrible life decisions and she knows it and you know it and she does it anyway and you continue to spend time with her because you have to know how it all unravels.
Essbaum has created a character that will breed conflict within readers: do I like her? Should I like her? How do I feel about identifying with these observations? I think that’s part of the brilliance of this book – it challenges our ideas of what makes a heroine. In the manner of The Dinner, Essbaum has created a character that you probably won’t like but is the kind of character that you will think about long after you finish the last page.
Related: Have you seen this video that goes through the cover art design process for Hausfrau??