Hausfrau: A Novel (2000)
Hausfrau: A Novel (2000)
Rating
4.28 of 5 Votes: 1
ISBN
0812997530 (ISBN13: 9780812997538)
languge
English
genre
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Anna Benz is an American expat living in Zurich with her Swiss husband, Bruno, and their 3 young children. By all other accounts, Anna has a great life but, to Anna, life has become a prison. Her relationship with Bruno has cooled into marital co-existence. Her parents are deceased and Anna has few friends. Years of understanding almost nothing of Schwiizerdutsch (the language of Zurich) have left her disconnected. Yet, don’t feel sorry for Anna. She is not, as the first line claims “a good wife, mostly.” Anna’s means of finding comfort and belonging is sex with other men, a secret she keeps from her husband, her psychoanalyst, and her friends.As Anna reveals her thoughts and feelings, we discover what’s troubling Anna is much more complicated than boredom. She vacillates between making excuses for her affairs and longing to be a better person. The words she learns in German class and the heady concepts she discusses with her Jungian analyst twist and morph in Anna’s mind, taking on deeper meaning and sometimes distorting what is actually happening in her life. Over just a few months, Anna’s self-indulgences, rationalizations, delusions, and destructive behavior will have dire consequences.Hausfrau is a melancholy journey through the mind of a seemingly ordinary but very troubled woman who stands in the way of her own happiness. The writing style is literary and sophisticated, tilting toward ostentatious, and readers may be challenged to sympathize with Anna at times but the story is compelling even as the possibility of a happy ending for Anna slips further and further away. There is a lyric in a song by UK band Elbow that goes, 'This can't go on too long/You're a tragedy starting to happen', and it was this lyric that played through my head over and over as I read Essbaum's Hausfrau. Anna is a tragedy starting to happen from page one. And the reader knows it. Hausfrau is a bleak, serious novel, but it is worth the effort. Anna Benz is an expatriate American living with her husband and young family in Switzerland. She is a displaced person. Desperately lonely and unhappy, she seeks help from an analyst, but at the same time seeks thrills in illicit sex with various men she has met in her day-to-day life. She has three young children with her cold and difficult Swiss husband, banker Bruno, two boys from the marriage and one daughter from her first affair. She is plagued by misery and ennui. We meet her Anna as she embarks upon the beginning of a new affair with Scotsman, Archie, from her German class. That Anna is only just learning the native language of her new home some nine years after she has moved there give us an idea of just how detached she has become from her world. Anna is convinced that she can only be truly happy when she is alone, in the moments she has to herself, but fills her days with sex in order to distract herself from her misery. She has few friends, and is surprised when a friendship develops with the much more traditional Mary, who has just moved to Switzerland from Canada. Mary unlocks some of Anna's most secret places and allows her to believe that happiness and redemption might just be possible for her after all.Hausfrau plays out a sophisticated dialogue on domestic feminism, choice, and the role of the wife. Anna is a passive spectator in her own life in many ways. As more men approach her, proposition her, she merely allows her affairs to happen to her. She chooses none of them for herself, she is the chosen. Certainly she has some agency, and her pleasure in the distractions of an active sex life is obvious. But she seems forced along a path that is largely not of her own choosing. She constantly second guesses herself, is insecure about her position in her life, and is easily swayed from her own choices when pressed by others. Anna narrates the story for us, but we are treated to extra insights in chapters where she visits her analyst. We, as readers, know more about Anna's inner life than her doctor, however, whom Anna never really trusts until it is much too late. Hausfrau is a modern tragedy in the style of Kate Chopin's The Awakening, and is insightful in its portrayal of a woman on the brink, trapped between the divergent roles patriarchy requires of her - those of the sexually liberated virago and the saintly housewife. The lesson of Essbaum's novel is that sadly, little has changed for women in this world since Chopin's Edna fought the same battles, and sometimes tragedy is still the only possible outcome.
Reviews
Sophie1006
Liked the writing but the characters were dysfunctional - a bit like Gone Girl.
Greg
Uh, 50 Shades, but written better. Arguably more graphic and in Zurich.
Echavez9579
I found this book super depressing.
LorianaJ
Could. Not. Put. This. Down
allie
Oh god. Ohgodohgodohgod.
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