Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

April 6, 2015 Contemporary Fiction, Women's Studies 12

Salutations, Bookworms!

In case you hadn’t already seen it EVERYWHERE, Hausfrauby Jill Alexander Essbaum is the new “IT” book. I’m not great at being “in the know” but sometimes news even reaches under my personal rock. I’m going to try to keep this post spoiler-free, but if you’ve read Hausfrau and want to discuss all the dirty details, head over to The Socratic Salon and check out their fabulous discussion. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley for review consideration.*

hausfrauAnna Benz is an American woman living in the suburbs of Zurich, Switzerland. She and her husband Bruno are raising three children, and Anna is a stay-at-home parent. Beneath the veneer of their picture perfect family, Anna is struggling. As an expatriate with a very limited command of the local language, Anna finds herself isolated and lonely. When Anna finds her German language classes and psychotherapy unfulfilling, she falls into a series of extra-marital affairs. Anna’s life spins utterly out of control and chaos ensues.

You know the opening credits of Mad Men, where this cartoon dude is just free falling and there’s nothing around to catch him? That’s kind of what Hausfrau reminded me of. Holy crap, Anna. This book has been compared to a lot of your typical classic tales of philandering women (Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, The Awakening, A Doll’s House, etc.) but because it’s set in the present, it adds a new element. Yes, Anna is depressed. Yes, she’s isolated and living in a foreign country. Yes, she (sort of) loves her husband. But unlike the heroines of these classic novels, Anna has options. I mean, divorce is totally a thing that can happen nowadays when marriages are as miserable as Anna and Bruno’s. I think that’s what makes her so fascinating. She’s not really a victim of circumstance, she’s a victim of her own passivity. There is so much complex and meaty commentary on the human condition in this book that it would make phenomenal book club fodder. I mean, as long as you don’t mind arguing, because Anna is one polarizing lady.

I don’t normally discuss prose or writing style because I don’t feel qualified to do so, but Essbaum does some gorgeous work with her words. Maybe it’s her background in poetry, but homegirl can turn a phrase, y’all. I also usually don’t mention when a book contains a lot of sexy-times, because when I’m usually talking about a romance when such things come up and it’s pretty much expected there. This is one of the, um, naked-est pieces of literary fiction I’ve encountered in a while, so if that sort of thing really bugs you, this might not be the book for you. However, if you’re looking for an awesome and fiery book club discussion or just a lot of moral dilemma brain chewing, Hausfrau delivers.

Talk to me, Bookworms. Are you the sort of person who enjoys a lively debate in book club discussion?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

12 Responses to “Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum”

  1. Sarah's Book Shelves

    I didn’t love this book, but do think it’s a great book club selection…and I enjoyed Socratic Salon’s discussion. I think you hit the nail on the head in saying Anna is a victim of her own passivity. Unfortunately, I just didn’t think Anna was that interesting and she failed to evoke any emotion in me. I realize in the minority here 🙂

  2. Katie McD @ Bookish Tendencies

    Really loved your observation: “She’s not really a victim of circumstance, she’s a victim of her own passivity.” SO TRUE, and one I haven’t heard mentioned yet in discussion of this book. I really liked this book, and great review!

  3. Megan M.

    You’re so insightful Katie! Sometimes I feel like I would love to be part of a book club that got into meaty discussions about stories, but debates make me SUPER uncomfortable and I usually stay completely silent because I feel like I would just say something stupid. Online I can collect my thoughts and edit, but when I say stuff out loud, I mumble and stammer and my face turns bright red. It’s ugly.

    • Words For Worms

      LOL, I’m so rarely accused of being insightful! I really hate conflict in person, online, with a fox, in a box. I’m just not a fan. My book club typically talks about the book for a few minutes and then devolves into neighborhood gossip and general mayhem. It’s delightful.

  4. Rory

    I opted to skip this one, despite it being it “it” book – mostly because I saw the Anna Karenina comparison and am pretty sure of the general ending. And I know I may be the only one, but I actually don’t care for the cover.

    • Words For Worms

      And you would be right in your assumption with the Anna Karenina comparison. Very specifically right, actually. The cover is okay. I dunno. I’m not a big one for covers anyway. Meh.

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