Everyone’s Talking About: Hausfrau

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??

13 thoughts on “Everyone’s Talking About: Hausfrau

  1. I hope I saved a few things to say!
    I really loved the way the book was structured, with all the segments, and the going back and forth (not very articulate, but you know what I mean). There were so many things to think about along the way.
    I don’t think that I found Anna unlikeable, really. I mostly felt sorry for her. And, I wanted to shout at her to talk to her therapist properly – to care! You get the impression that she just really doesn’t care to get better. I have never felt that way, but I get how that might happen.

    I really have to read The Dinner (I do own it). Would The Dinner be good for a book club?

    • I know EXACTLY what you mean – I felt the same way. Almost as if I were reading a series of short poems. She did really need to talk to her therapist honestly but I also got a whiff of condescension from her. She’s a psychoanalyst and I’m not sure that that’s the same as a psychiatrist. In the end she was very concerned with keeping to scheduled appointment times – a psychiatrist would never have shouted down and closed the window.
      I think she didn’t care because she had already moved on. Once what happens happens, there’s no more reason to stay.
      The Dinner is GREAT for a book club.

      • I forgot about the yelling out the window thing. I think you’re right that a psychiatrist wouldn’t have done that. She is almost more scientific than therapeutic. I wonder why her husband suggested she see her instead of a psychologist or psychiatrist? Maybe he didn’t realize how far gone she was.

  2. I am so excited for this, I need to know what everyone is losing their minds over. Plus, your comparison to The Dinner, which I loved makes it that much more enticing!

  3. I just finished Hausfrau this morning, and I was really enjoying it until the end. I loved the writing and how the fluidly the story moved back and forth through time, and I thought Anna was an interesting character. But the ending was so obvious, and that kind of ruined it for me.

    • It was totally obvious but what I liked about the ending was that she committed to following it through. She could have just as easily written an ending where her husband suddenly cares or the psychoanalyst catches on and protects her. I felt like it was the only way that it could end.

  4. Yes, everyone is loving this book! I really like the cover. The more I hear about it the more I want to check it out. And now I’m interested in the poetic writing. Might remind me of Burial Rites, which seemed almost poetic in its flow.

    • The cover is amazing. The more I look at it, the more genius it is. Parts of the flowers have kind of wilted away but you can’t see it right away. Burial Rites DID have a poetic flow to it but Hausfrau’s story is totally better. I mean, I was interested in the story of Burial Rites but the execution (no pun intended) of it was lacking.

  5. Yes-I agree. That was totally the only way this book could end. And while you did see it coming, I appreciated the decisiveness as well. I hadn’t seen that cover video! I love it! I think the cover is beautiful that was chosen-but some of those with fire I am totally in love with.

  6. Pingback: Better Late Than Never: 2015 in Review | The Paperback Princess

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