Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
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. 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…
First Impressions: I didn’t really enjoy the first two chapters of this novel. I found the story and main character to be too cold and clinical. However, Marina Sofia wrote a wonderful review of this novel. She approached it from the perspective of the expat detail. I gave the novel a second go, looking at it through this lense, and I am really glad I did!
Highlights: This is in a completely different league to Gone Girl. I was really invested in this story by the end. Anna’s agony felt so real my heart was almost breaking too. I could feel her pain and tried not to dwell on things too much otherwise I would have shed a tear, I am sure! I thought the expat observations were accurate, particularly the awkwardness of putting out an olive branch and starting new friendships with someone who superficially you have little in common. As for Anna’s affairs, I didn’t necessarily think the impetus behind her actions was strong enough but the passivity of her character was believable and not as annoying as I would have assumed. I would have liked to learn more about her formative years in America. I think I like the ending and it does seem fitting to the circularity of the story.
If I was an editor: I’d have a good think about whether the fragments from the psychologist sessions that intersperse the story are really necessary. For me, I don’t think they added much to the story but I did like the fragments from the German classes. I found some of the plot devices a bit predictable but there’s only so much scope in a story like this I guess. Anna’s relationship with Bruno seems so distant it’s a wonder they even orbit the same family life. However, they were obviously drawn to each other for various reasons and each to their own! Perhaps Bruno’s story would be good for a sequel, Werktatige.
Overall: What’s German for torment?
Hausfrau: 4 stars
Here is a link to The Expat Experience, a review post I wrote in 2013.
Thank you to Sam Eades at Pan Macmillan for a copy of the title to review.