Summary and book reviews of Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum X
Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2015, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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About this Book

Book Summary

A striking debut novel of marriage, fidelity, sex, and morality, featuring a fascinating heroine who struggles to live a life with meaning.

For readers of Claire Messud and Mary Gaitskill comes a striking debut novel of marriage, fidelity, sex, and morality, featuring a fascinating heroine who struggles to live a life with meaning.

Hausfrau
haus·frau \haus-frau\ n 1: Origin: German.
Housewife, homemaker. 2: A married woman. 3: A novel by jill alexander essbaum

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.

1

Anna was a good wife, mostly.

It was mid-­afternoon, and the train she rode first wrenched then eased around a bend in the track before it pulled into Bahnhof Dietlikon at thirty-­four past the hour, as ever. It's not just an adage, it's an absolute fact: Swiss trains run on time. The S8 originated in Pfäffikon, a small town thirty kilometers away. From Pfäffikon, its route sliced upward along the shores of the Zürichsee, through Horgen on the lake's west bank, through Thalwil, through Kilchberg. Tiny towns in which tiny lives were led. From Pfäffikon, the train made sixteen stops before it reached Dietlikon, the tiny town in which Anna's own tiny life was led. Thus the ordinary fact of a train schedule modulated Anna's daily plans. Dietlikon's bus didn't run into the city. Taxicabs were expensive and impractical. And while the Benz family owned a car, Anna didn't drive. She did not have a license.

So her world was ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. That Anna. So—really—what's her deal? Her thoughts loop on a script of immutable passivity, but is that her whole story? From the onset we know she is a flawed protagonist, a damaged character, a woman who is "nothing but a series of poor choices executed poorly." Taking into account Anna's personal history, her psychic and spiritual makeup, and those aforementioned poor choices, is there any part of this tragedy that somehow isn't her fault? What should she be held accountable for? Of what, if anything, are you willing to absolve her?

  2. Bruno proposes to Anna with the words "I think you would make a good wife for me." What, in your opinion, would make him think that? They've been together for over a decade. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

At times it's difficult to discern just why Anna is so desperately unhappy, why she finds her husband (who seems mostly harmless enough, just perhaps dull or disengaged, more than a little blind to his wife's unhappiness) so infuriating and unsatisfactory, why she actively shuts out others' overtures of genuine friendship and kindness. She is occasionally frustrating for that reason, but also fascinating to consider in her complexity and her thoroughly realistic conception of herself as a passive victim of circumstances.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Full Review (637 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

A smart book that entertains page by page but doesn't add up to anything larger.

Booklist

Isolated and tormented, Anna shares more than her name with that classic adulteress, Anna Karenina, but Essbaum has given a deft, modern facelift to the timeless story of a troubled marriage and tragic love in this seductive first novel.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This novel is masterly as it moves toward its own inescapable ending, and Anna is likely to provoke strong feelings in readers well after the final page.

The Guardian (U.K.)

Haunting.

Marie Claire (U.K.)

Riveting and shocking

Glamour (U.K.)

A beautiful dissection of a marriage in crisis.

The Sunday Express (UK)

Madame Bovary meets Fifty Shades of Grey.

Grazia (UK)

A racy mix of Gone Girl and Fifty Shades.

Harper's Bazaar (UK)

The ghost of Anna Karenina haunts the poet Jill Alexander Essbaum's debut, Hausfrau, about an American in Z├╝rich with the perfect husband, perfect sons and perfect home; but she is far from the perfect wife.

The Bookseller (U.K.)

An exceptional debut [with] a heart-stopping climax... This portrait of a woman on the edge lingers long in the memory.

Author Blurb Sloane Crosley, author of I Was Told There'd Be Cake
A stunningly written, hauntingly paced book. Anna Benz has the weight of a classic heroine - isolated yet crowded - but she is utterly modern in Jill Alexander Essbaum's hands.

Author Blurb Janet Fitch, #1 New York Times bestselling author of White Oleander
This is a rare and remarkable debut.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Swiss-German

Switzerland has four official languages, each primarily spoken in different regions of the country (please click map below). A portion of the West speaks primarily French; Italian dominates in some portions of the South; and Romansh, the closest living language resembling ancient Latin, works in a very small section of the southeast. A wide swath of the middle, including Zürich, where Hausfrau is set, speaks German. Making things more complicated, this region is diglossic, speaking two different variations of the language: standard (also known as High German) and Swiss German, also known as Mundart or Schweizerdütsch, which itself has a set of local dialects.

In Hausfrau, Anna takes courses in the ...

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