By Jill Alexander Essbaum
Published by Random House (26 March 2015)
Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband Bruno and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zurich. Though she leads a comfortable well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno, 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 into with an ease that surprises even her. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of the control. Having crosses a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there's no doing back.
Not many books leave my head spinning, overloaded with thoughts and emotions. Hausfrau is certainly one of those books. It is the story of an intelligent married American woman who feels bored, alone and unhappy in Zurich. Her Swiss husband works long hours and gives her little attention. Although she clearly loves her children, she is just as happy to spend her days roaming around the shops, and embarks on several affairs to help pass the time.
I felt like I should despise Anna, who made little effort to learn the language and make friends, yet all I could feel for her was pity. All her materialistic needs were being met, but she was clearly craving physical closeness and attention, turning to men for comfort. There was no love or affection involved in these affairs, just sex and desire.
The book grabbed my attention from the first line: 'Anna was a good wife, mostly.' The words had a poetic rhythm that sang as I read. The language was timeless and indulgent. The clever use of German grammar moves the story along. I wanted to keep reading, yet at the same time I didn't want the book to end.
Hausfrau is about people not places - there are no vivid descriptions of Switzerland, for example. It's Anna's emotions and feelings that take prominence, as she spirals out of control both morally and psychologically. This is certainly not light reading or a book with any humour. But it is a fascinating, highly addictive, story.
Thanks to the publisher for an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.