[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]
“Anna was a good wife, mostly.”
This powerful first line is what starts Jill Alexander Essbaum’s beautiful novel Hausfrau. Set in picture-esque Switzerland, Hausfrau follows the life of Anna, an American ex-pat living with her wealthy banker husband and children. She doesn’t work, hence “hausfrau”, yet she finds it difficult to find things she loves to do to pass the time. What results is a series of infidelities that is fascinating to read about but worrisome in its consequences.
I really enjoyed this book. In fact, many of its aspects appealed to me as a reader: a complicated woman trying to find her way, Jungian psychoanalysis, beautiful writing, and wordplay. Its plot moves steadily, and I never found myself bored or uninterested. Anna is such an interesting character that I think this book is one that I could re-read and re-read so as to catch every small detail of the writing. (It doesn’t hurt that the wonderful ladies at The Socratic Salon have launched an interesting discussion of the novel; check it out here – I’d highly recommend it if you’ve read the book/aren’t worried about spoilers!)
Anna immediately drew me in with her unwillingness (or inability?) to fully express what she was thinking and feeling when talking to other people. She seems like such a quiet hausfrau on the outside, but on the inside, she seems lost and directionless. It was a privilege to read what was going on in her mind (when she shared it with us), and I couldn’t help but want the best for her. Will she find happiness and fulfillment? You’ll have to read to find out.
Verdict: A fascinating book with a complicated protagonist, a character that you will want to analyze over and over again. It does contain some graphic sex scenes, so be warned if you’re adverse to that. Overall I think it’s worth the read for the character study and beautiful writing.
Read if: You’re curious about psychoanalysis, want to know what drove Anna to infidelity, want to see why Anna is a good wife, but only mostly.
Have you read Hausfrau? What did you think? Have you been checking out The Socratic Salon’s discussion?