Book Reviews / Thursday, December 31st, 2015

Intense. Surprisingly addictive. Mounting intrigue. Anna is an American who has to all intent and purposes met and fallen in love with a Swiss called Bruno. He is tall good-looking, unwavering, and candid in his opinions. She has lived in Switzerland for 9 years and still doesn’t speak German fluently. Her life is evolving as if on autopilot. Switzerland and its people don’t seem to want to let her in or is it that she doesn’t want to fit in. After living 9 years in Germany the reader could probably assume that Anna doesn’t want to fit in (that’s what I assumed) and that she is just simply an unreliable narrator. However, I’d say that is not exactly the case.

hausfrauAnna is often very honest about her feelings to the reader and about the various events she goes through. She is also very clever with her scrutiny and descriptions of the different characters she has relationships with. The third person voice acts like a journal, where we hear her every thought – her fears, her loneliness, her desires.  Hausfrau has a similar voice that seems to be common at the moment in a few popular contemporary novels – female voice that’s raw and direct i.e. Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, etc. Fortunately, Anna’s voice is not annoying but realistic. Actually at some point, I felt sorry for her (didn’t last long) even though most of her problems stem from her incapacity to make proper choices and to evolve to something better.

Hausfrau’s structure is what gives it an originality that makes it interesting.  It explores more than just a  discontented housewife who’s trapped by home chores and such.   That’s because oddly enough most of the time we follow Anna when she’s outside of the house. The juxtaposition of German language grammar and pertinent statements and questions from her psychoanalyst, between reading about Anna’s dalliances, disclose thought-provoking reasons why Anna has difficulty adapting to life in Switzerland. In no way are all of those questions answered but there is a brilliant case made for how important some life decisions are and how they can affect us for the rest of our lives. The onset of Hausfrau felt like a typical unhappy housewife story, but in spite of that beginning it gradually won me over with its structure. It’s like reading about a train wreck ready to happen, but it’s a quick read and full of lots of twists and turns that will keep you entertained. The weaknesses of Hausfrau – the predictable ending and I would have liked to see Anna evolve into a stronger woman as the story unfolded, but she seems to remain unchanging in character, no development. She didn’t even seem desperate towards the end. It seems this type of contemporary novel featuring weak women is becoming regrettably trendy. Even though, it’s definitely a good read and looking forward to Essbaum’s future novels and I may even try to pick one of her other poetry collections.

Have you guys read Hausfrau? If so what did you think?

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19 Replies to “Hausfrau”

  1. You got me intrigued, so maybe I’ll read Hausfrau in 2016? I didn’t like Girl on the train or Gone girl, though 🙂
    I wish you and your family a happy new year! See you in the summer!

    1. I wan’t a fan of The Girl on the Train either and still haven’t read it. however that female voice is a little familiar but Hausfrau is done well. I enjoyed it in spite of a few of its flaws. Let me know what you think if you get to it. I read it on ebook. Wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend the money. Maybe you could do the same? Happy New Year to you too Silje and to your family and kisses to your Mom! 🙂

  2. So glad to see you review this book. Living in Switzerland, I noticed a few of the local newspapers “reviewed” it last year, or at least talked about it. I think on some level, the readers/reviewers here weren’t really sure what “Hausfrau” was really trying to say. Why was Anna so lonely? Did Anna really think an affair would make matters better? And can Anna be really all that lonely–she seemed to have no problem meeting men, in a community where people seem to have difficulty meeting new people at all…? Perhaps some people might even have wondered what the secret to her “success” was–since Swiss people can be reserved.

    The Zurich area is changing rapidly with an evergrowing expat community. Many expats have a hard time feeling like they have a place in Swiss culture. For example, since moving here I take the same one-hour train ride to work every day and I see the exact same 30 or so people on the same train every morning. We all have our patterns, our “seats” and we’re thrown off when someone misses a day. In the U.S. I probably would know the names of a handful of them, know if they’re married or have kids. I have only “met” one of them. By “met” I mean we greet each other and wish each other a nice day, and we continue reading the paper and leaving each other alone. Every now and again, he’ll tell me he’ll be going on vacation and therefore won’t be on the train for the next two weeks. When he’s gone, I feel like an expat again.

    Happy New Year! I always enjoy reading your book reviews and other blog posts!

    1. Thanks! I thoroughly understand. I fell hausfrau captured that since of being an expat and how difficult it is. Unless someone has been in an expats shoes they won’t understand this book. It’s complex as you’ve stated and definitely not easy. As an expat you no longer have any reference points and that makes everyday living a chore. You’re trying to find new ones and everybody around you keeps pointing out how different you are and telling you about stereotypes from your homeland. Some days can be frankly speaking a bit daunting. Thanks again for the support Cynthia! Happy New Year! 😀

  3. Love the great new look of your blog for 2016 – I’m right behind you on refreshing mine —slower, however! I wanted to read Hausfrau just for the beautiful cover, alone. In fact, I began it but found myself not wanting to meet Anna just yet. Maybe the “weakness” you described put me off – you know sometimes you need or want to encounter particular character traits at different times. I can be so judgmental!

    1. I totally agree. Anna is really something else. You just want to shake her! I read it on ebook because I wasn’t sure about it. Not bad at all though. Read it when you want to kill some time. I read it in 2 days. Extremely fast read! Happy New Year! 🙂

      1. I cannot remember now… I think she was talking about one of her short story published with an interesting twist.. and she said Hausfrau kind of inspired her… etc… I will see if I can find it and send it to you. ?

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