Thanks to Net Galley for providing me with this ARC for review purposes.
Anna was a good wife, mostly.
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. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or 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 with an ease that surprises even her.
But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.
Intimate, intense, and written with the precision of a Swiss Army knife, Jill Alexander Essbaum’s debut novel is an unforgettable story of marriage, fidelity, sex, morality, and most especially self. Navigating the lines between lust and love, guilt and shame, excuses and reasons, Anna Benz is an electrifying heroine whose passions and choices readers will debate with recognition and fury. Her story reveals, with honesty and great beauty, how we create ourselves and how we lose ourselves and the sometimes disastrous choices we make to find ourselves.
Many of the reviews I’ve seen of HAUSFRAU say that it’s a hard book to review. I agree. As I read it, I wanted to slam it shut and toss it away, multiple times. The only reason I kept going was curiosity–how would things end? Anna Benz is a hard character to like: she’s weak, passive, oversexed, bland, and annoying. For the most part, she spends her time wishing she weren’t in Switzerland with her husband, attending German classes, seeing her psychologist, and having meaningless sex with men. I’m no prude, but her attitude towards these dalliances were repugnant. Anna seems to have no emotions other than depression, ennui, and lust. I know that’s a strange combination, and perhaps that is what disturbed me the most. For all her time spent in bed, it didn’t really seem to help her enjoy life.
The writing is technically correct; and any other plot/ characters in Essbaum’s hands would be wonderful. She has the ability to create wonderful sentences and beautiful mental images; and certainly can get inside the mind of a disturbed person. Some of Anna’s internal dialogue was right on the mark.
I think the more time I’ve spent between finishing this book and recalling it for this review has mellowed my dislike. Perhaps that is too strong, as my loathing of Anna’s character has possibly overshadowed other things about HAUSFRAU that are very good. The plot does have some interesting turns and developments, outside of Anna’s sex addiction and self loathing, and this is what drives the denoument. The last part of the book is the most satisfying, the most shocking, and the most emotionally disturbing part. As I mentioned, I was on the verge of putting HAUSFRAU on my did-not-finish list, but I’ll admit grudgingly that I’m glad I didn’t.
It will be interesting to see if this book is a best seller and will get a lot of hype. You will either love it or hate it–but I guarantee you will spend time thinking about it: Anna’s choices, her mental state, if things really were as tragic as they seemed, and the chilling way the book ended. The last few sentences will be etched in my mind for a while.
Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link asin=”0812997530″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]here[/easyazon_link].