Hausfrau – Jill Alexander Essbaum

Published March 27, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

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.

What did I think?:

Prior to beginning this novel I had heard a lot of hype about it so was absolutely delighted to receive a complimentary copy from the publishers, Random House in return for an honest review. Many thanks to them. To be perfectly honest, I was quite surprised about the average rating on GoodReads for this novel which I expected to be a lot higher! This is the kind of book that although I didn’t rate the main character too highly at times, got deep under my skin and I still find myself thinking about it from time to time, even though I finished the novel quite a while ago.

Our main character is Anna Benz, American by birth but married her Swiss husband Bruno, became mother to three children and lives in Switzerland with them where she still struggles to get by in daily life, especially with the language. Anna has very few friends, (perhaps also a language issue) she doesn’t have a driving licence or bank account and is maybe understandably miserable both in her current situation and with certain issues in the past. All that is expected of Anna is to be a good little housewife and as long as she takes care of her family and her husband, Bruno will see that she does not want for anything.

Desperate to regain some control on a life she sees hurtling away from her Anna finally enrolls herself in German language classes and on her husband’s advice, begins to see a therapist. Unfortunately, the thing Anna perhaps needs most help with at the present time is the one thing that she is not confiding in her therapist about. Anna has a compulsive need to have affairs to keep herself afloat/sane/happy and it’s absolutely nothing to do with any sort of emotional connection – it’s literally all about the sex, and as much of it as possible. The novel explores her life and the affairs in a series of flash backs and flash forwards interspersed with some of her therapy sessions to consider what happens when one woman feels so trapped in both her life and her actions that it seems impossible to change even where there is a risk of devastating consequences.

This book was a really interesting read and a fascinating debut novel. After doing some research on the author, I discovered that Jill Alexander Essbaum was originally a poet and this is obvious in the beautiful prose she chooses to use which flows so effortlessly through the pages and certainly had me reading many paragraphs more than once:

“But grief is not simple sadness. Sadness is a feeling that wants nothing more than to be sat with, held, and heard. Grief is a journey. It must be moved through. With a rucksack full of rocks, you hike through a black, pathless forest, brambles about your legs and wolf packs at your heels. The grief that never moves is called complicated grief. It doesn’t subside, you do not accept it, and it never—it never—goes to sleep. This is possessive grief. This is delusional grief. This is hysterical grief. Run if you will, this grief is faster. This is the grief that will chase you and beat you. This is the grief that will eat you.”

I never really understood Anna as a character but I’m not sure if we were ever meant to. I would have loved to read more about what made her so troubled and was frustrated at times that this information was never really given but it didn’t at any point irritate me to the point where I wanted to give up. She was such a fascinating character and even though I may not have agreed with a lot of her decisions, I couldn’t help myself reading on. It was probably the literary equivalent of an awful car accident where you really don’t want to look but something compels you into having a little peek. I was surprised by how sexually graphic it was even after knowing what to expect after reading a few review prior to starting but I have to wholeheartedly applaud the author for being brave enough to put it out there, clearly demonstrating that guess what? – women can be sexual beings too!

Some reviewers have mentioned that the ending makes up for the slow periods in the novel but I don’t really agree. I constantly felt the build-up and the tension throughout the story and you just know this can’t end well, right? Okay, so it might not be for everyone, it might feel slightly slow and dream-like at times but I personally feel that this is a terrific piece of writing from a talented author and on the strength of this her debut novel, I simply can’t wait to see what she’s going to hit us with next!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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