Review: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Hausfrau: A Novel - Jill Alexander Essbaum

Initial reaction: I'm really surprised how much I liked this book even considering the difficult subject matters and unlikable protagonist that it showcases through the narrative. I feel like Anna's character was strongly asserted despite her moments of weakness and the expansion upon that weakness, even as her behavior begins to spiral out of control. It's very well written and intimate to Anna's experiences (the sensuality, though clinical in portrayal at times, seems true to the experiences and emotional portrayal of Anna's psyche). I'll expand on my thoughts in the full review to it, but it's likely I'll settle on 3.5 stars for this read.

Full review:

This is a difficult book to write about, let alone like. Multiple times I questioned myself for my end reactions, saying "Am I rating this too high? Weren't there so many things here that I seriously found myself vexed over?" (Only to realize that, yes, I was supposed to be vexed over these factors, and the book made no suggestions otherwise.) I actually really liked the audio narration by Mohzan Marno, whose voice provides kind of a clinical eye to the character's experiences. If you know "Hausfrau" in terms of how it begins and steadily unravels, you'll realize that the ending doesn't have any kind of rosiness to it whatsoever - it's emotionally rough, rooted in a tragic psychological undertaking. This book felt more like a character study of Anna Benz, appropriately conveying the title's namesake ("Hausfrau" means "housewife"). Anna feels like an anti-heroine who - despite having a husband and three children, starts down an obsessive path to outright lies, infidelity and sensual obsession (which is hinted at being an uncontrollable problem of psyche/loss, which is only partially expounded on after certain events in the novel).

The book I'll admit was very well written and ultimately pulled me along for the ride despite my initial and progressive qualms. I'll also say that there wasn't a time where I didn't feel like I could see how Anna reacted to things and note her futility, her frustration, her anxiety, her passivity, and her feelings of loss in a home away from a place where she could never fully feel that she belonged, looking for something to feel a void that couldn't be filled in her life.

What I didn't get out of this narrative was the WHY?

Why did Anna do all of these things? Why were her obsessions and griefs so prominent? Why did she eventually get caught? Why, why, why?

There were too many "whys" left unanswered in this narrative to keep it from being fully immersive. Jill Alexander Essbaum did a great job with establishing Switzerland's sense of place, and she even took the time to intersperse Anna's therapist sessions to give certain scenes more emotional clarity (and those particular scenes, I felt, didn't bog down the narrative at all).

But as much as I understand that Anna's wandering and emptiness is parallel in terms of the narration of the novel, it left me wanting more from the experience than what I got. The sexuality is overt (often graphically so) here, and at times it's clinical in narration to mirror Anna's thoughts/viewpoint of it, but it's suggested that her addiction has some root in her psyche which we never know the root cause for - and that absence made the book feel like it was stacked on a difficult foundation. There are resulting tragedies that are palpable, but it's hard to know the root from where all this began.

The writing, heart and aim of the novel had me, but the lack of development and background shortchanged it from being more memorable/impactful.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Random House.