Book Review | Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Hausfrau Jill Alexander Essbaum Book Cover Book Review

[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?

19 thoughts on “Book Review | Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

  1. Julianne - Outlandish Lit says:

    Ahhh, you’re making me want to read this even more than I already do! It’s sitting beside me, I just have to finish other books ugh. But, yeah, I’m definitely in the mood for a book about a woman. I feel deprived, and this sounds so intriguing.

  2. Sandra says:

    I almost bought this book for my Kobo last week but decided on three others instead. I read the preview and something about it bothered me, not sure what, but it was enough to pass it over and choose the others. Maybe I will see if I can get it at the library because you’ve made it sound like a good read!

  3. Naomi says:

    I highly recommend the discussion over at the Socratic Salon. I think they’ve covered just about everything about this book. I agree that Anna’s character is worth reading about, and the writing is fantastic!

  4. The Paperback Princess says:

    This is one of those books that does really need to be talked out so I’m glad that the Socratic Salon chose it to start a discussion with. It would have been a great book club book if I hadn’t already read it months before we could possibly read it altogether. They are going to kick me out of my book club if I don’t shape up.

  5. Sarah's Book Shelves says:

    I was one of the few that didn’t love this one. I really felt no emotion toward Anna – one way or the other – I just couldn’t bring myself to care about what happened. But, it definitely makes a great discussion book and I enjoyed participating at the Socratic Salon.

  6. KatieMcD says:

    I also really liked this book, and the chatting over at The Socratic Salon really makes it that much more interesting. Glad you enjoyed it as well, and it’s always so fun to read different reviews, and see the different aspects people pull out of the same book 🙂

  7. joyousreads says:

    I’m a little wary of the infidelity part. I’m typically not a fan and it takes a lot for me to forgive this transgression. But, who knows? Maybe I can – given her circumstances.

  8. DoingDewey says:

    I’m guessing I didn’t like this as much as you did, in part because I found Anna’s listlessness and boredom influencing me, but I did also love the psychoanalysis and the word play. In fact, even though I didn’t love the story, I could probably enjoy re-reading it to pick up all the nuances of these sections. They really were a great way for the author to comment on the story without being intrusive.

  9. Melinda (@thebookmusings) says:

    I’ve read it, as you know, and I loved it. I may not have liked Anna very much, but I was very interested in finding out the course her life might take and the decisions she makes along the way. It was a great read.

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