thoughts and things

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum Book Review

Hausfrau is a hauntingly beautiful book, set in Switzerland. Anna, an American ex-pat, has lived in Switzerland for 9 years. I was able to read this book to review through being sent an ebook via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb:

Anna Benz lives in comfort and affluence with her husband and three young children in Dietlikon, a picture-perfect suburb of Zurich. Anna, an American expat, has chosen this life far from home; but, despite its tranquility and order, inside she is falling apart.

Feeling adrift and unable to connect with her husband or his family; with the fellow expatriates who try to befriend her; or even, increasingly, her own thoughts and emotions, Anna attempts to assert her agency in the only way that makes sense to her: by engaging in short-lived but intense sexual affairs.

But adultery, too, has its own morality, and when Anna finds herself crossing a line, she will set off a terrible chain of events that ends in unspeakable tragedy. As her life crashes down around her, Anna must then discover where one must go when there is no going back . . .

I was drawn jnto Anna’s life from the beginning. I was intrigued by her life, and how she was feeling. I could imagine how lonely and how alien it must be to move to a country where you don’t speak the language.

The book describes Switzerland beautifully; and it just adds to the bleakness that Anna feels. Switzerland is seen a neutral, black and white, starch and firm place. The characters around Anna are quite animated and colourful in comparison to her own monochrome life. Bruno, Anna’s husband, is also an aloof character; you don’t really get to know him but he is a brooding shadow on the peripheral. The characters are all pieces in the bigger puzzle of Anna’s life. I was invested in all of them and even writing this review now, I’m wondering how these characters reacted at the end of the book.

The book is melancholic, it’s starts an ascent that it doesn’t really lift out of. Yes, it can be seen as depressing but I felt really connected to Anna and her story, and could identify with that feeling of loneliness of being a stranger in a new place – except for Anna that feeling had not gone away for 9 years.

Anna’s affairs are told graphically, they are explicit and almost grotesquely told, in comparison to the other parts of her life. You can see that she slowly loses control of her self, of her morality and what she feels is right or wrong. This is fuelled by her feelings regarding events that have taken place over the last 18 months, and the secrets which she has had to keep within herself. In her therapy sessions, Anna is told she is passively living her life, and needs to start taking an active part in her life. We see her struggle to identify and connect with the life around her. Despite this, she does make friends and tries to forge something for herself out of the aftermath of the last 18 months. It all seems promising until a tragic event occurs which puts Anna back at square one.

Anna is in a position that she can’t really get out of; a housewife with children, she doesn’t even own a bank account. She has been in Switzerland for 9 years yet is only starting to learn the language. She has almost allowed herself to become totally dependent on others in her life, and on one hand she wants to break free but on the other hand can’t find the motivation or will to do so. The book frustrates the reader with Anna’s passivity; yet also you can see how she is effectively in a prison – possibly of her own making. The choices she has, or is able to make are limited by her situation and through the book you can see Anna struggle with the concept of choice on many levels.

Overall, I loved this book. I am still thinking of this book 3 days after finishing it. The ending hit me in the guts. I am not sure if I expected it or not. The words whirl around in your head for a while afterwards. I thought it was just superbly written, and easily my favourite book of the year so far.

5 out 5 stars.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum is published by Transworld and released on 26th March 2015



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