Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

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source: free review copy courtesy of Library Thing
title: Hausfrau
author: Jill Alexander Essbaum
pages: 318
published: ARC March 24, 2015
first line: Anna was a good wife, mostly.
rated: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Anna was a good wife, mostly. For readers of The Girl on the Train and The Woman Upstairs comes a striking debut novel of marriage, fidelity, sex, and morality, featuring a fascinating heroine who struggles to live a life with meaning.

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.

My Thoughts:

Author Jill Alexander Essbaum is a new to me author and I am glad I discovered her work. She is a poet which does not surprise me as Hausfrau reads like poetry at times, the narrative flows beautifully.

At the heart of this emotional and sad story is Anna, a thirty-something married mother of three who is her own worst enemy in many ways. I read Hausfrau intermittently over the course of about two weeks. I could not sit and read for too long at a time. It was a somber book and Anna’s sadness just flows throughout these pages.

The narrative goes from past to present and back again through Anna’s life. She is an American housewife married to her Swiss husband Bruno and living in Zurich. She is not happy living in a foreign country but is taking classes to learn German.

Anna sees a psychiatrist named Doktor Messerli. In between her current life and her flashbacks are conversations with the Doktor, whom I liked. The advice she gives Anna as well as the way she would get her to open up were interesting.

Anna however, finds solace for her loneliness in a series of extramarital affairs. At times reading this was like watching a train wreck, you don’t want to see but you cannot look away.
Anna creates such a mess of her life and I wondered how it would turn out for her. She and Bruno do not have a good relationship, there are emotionally distant from each other. She finds a best friend in German class, Mary, who tries to be there for her through painful times but Anna is detached from everyone. Her depression leads to despair in all areas of her life.

It is possible to lead several lives at once.
In fact, it is impossible not to.
p.159, Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

As Anna attempts to live her life, all she does is continuously lie. Some scenes were even humorous in a dark way because she was so paranoid about what others knew or suspected.
Anna herself is an unlikeable character. Aside from her extramarital affairs, she does not show passion for much else and this is shown early on in the story. Her affairs are what we see on the surface but the author takes us deeper into this woman’s depression. It really was an uncomfortable read and one that unsettled me. Like I mentioned before, the authors writing is beautiful, she tells a sad story with much grace.

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.

This was a thought provoking read and a glimpse into this depressed individuals life. The ending left me wondering about what would become of Anna. It is one of those endings that is up to the reader to imagine what might come next.

Disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive any kind of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. I am under no obligation to write a positive review. My free review copy of Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum arrived via LibraryThing.
The book photo above is my own and is not to be removed from this post.

13 thoughts on “Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

  1. Hi Naida,

    I also wouldn’t be too keen on reading this book, if the ending is left as much up in the air as you appear to suggest. I like a definitive ending to a story, so that I know where I stand, even if there is to be a follow up story coming along!

    Depression is another subject matter I can relate to quite easily, so I would have to look at the storyline very clinically to remain objective whilst reading. I am not generally easy, reading about psychiatrists visits and sexually explicit narrative, but I don’t think that would be enough to stop me reading this particular book.

    I checked out some of the authors other work and was surprised that just about everything she has written has themes of a sensual nature, from full on eroticism to death and religious faith … nothing too controversial then 🙂

    Another great review, thanks for sharing.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Yvonne. I like an ending too, but here it worked well. The central character is in so much trouble, she needs help and there can be no set ending without adding another couple of hundred pages I would think. I felt like the author handled the topic of depression very well here. I think in her work she likes to push the envelope.
      Enjoy your Sunday!


  2. Hmm, I’ve seen this book at work and thought it looked interesting. What gets tiring for me, though, is that the only way book characters seem to be able to liven up their marriage or life is by having extra-marital affairs. It just seems so unoriginal at this point.

    On the other hand, the writing looks like it’d be good enough to make up for the unoriginality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lady Disdain. In this case, she is not trying to liven up her marriage. She has mental issues and is really in crisis. I didn’t find it cliched, she was acting almost robotic at times. The writing was excellent.
      Happy weekend 🙂


  3. Great review, Naida!

    I’ve this book in my pile; I can’t help buying it after seeing a few bloggers friends reading it but I didn’t read any of the reviews then. I’m not a fan of ambiguous endings but sometimes they work in some novels. I’m very curious about this one but I’m in no hurry to read it. Maybe some other time. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great commentary Naida.

    I love character studies. I also like “unlikable” characters so this sounds like a book that I would like.

    I also do not always mind endings that do not resolve everything. I think that such ending often have something to say about life. On the other hand, based on the plot description I might find such a conclusion little frustrating in a book like this. I would really want to find out what happened to the character.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Brian, this was an excellent character study. The ending worked well here because Anna had made such a mess of her life, there was somewhat of an ending, but then again, there wasn’t.
    Thanks for popping in and happy Sunday 🙂


  6. Great review. I’m not sure this would be a book I’d enjoy, though. I’m not sure. As for the ending, I prefer a real ending, too, but if this worked than I’d be fine with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am not usually a fan of books that deal with infidelity, but I keep hearing such good things about this one. I may have to give it a try. Thank you for your insightful review.

    Liked by 1 person

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