It’s not very often that you will find me awake early on a Sunday morning sitting on the couch in my living room crying. I can safely say that had never happened to me before, until I read the final chapters of Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. A debut novel from an award winning American poet, Hausfrau tells the moving and ultimately tragic story of Anna- an American housewife living in Switzerland.
Anna is a difficult character to like at the beginning, she comes across as selfish, scatter brained and just a little bit of a sex addict. Not content with her life as a wife to an aloof Swiss Banker and mother of 3 children, Anna spends her time having affairs and attending sessions with a psychiatrist. Anna is a loner and struggles to fit into Swiss society, and after 9 years living in Zurich decides to take language lessons so that she can communicate with the people around her. At times I found Anna frustrating as she is a rather depressive character, and sometimes I had to break away from the book as Anna’s mood was getting to me. I think this is a testament to the fantastic writing of Jill Alexander Essbaum, it’s impossible to read this book and not get swept up in Anna’s moods.
I found Anna’s husband Bruno to be a wholly unlikable character. His was aloof, cold, uncaring and at times worrying when it comes to his temper. The whole story is told from Anna’s point of view, but at the end of the story I felt conflicted towards Bruno- I can see that he and Anna were opposites and Anna’s infidelity and depressive moods made her hard to love, but he is unlikable, he is cruel and does something towards the end of the novel that in my opinion is unforgivable.
The structure of the novel moves between the present, Anna’s sessions with Doktor Messerli and Anna’s past and her relationships, mainly with Stephen the man she claims to love (or be in a version of love with) who is no longer in her life. I think that it was a wise move by the author to break up the story like this, as I feel otherwise the depressive mood of Anna would have become too much for the reader to handle.
I don’t want to give away the ending of this novel, but you could kind of see there was only one way that Anna’s story was going to end. The whole time I read the book, I felt like I was watching a speeding car heading towards an abyss. There is an event towards the end that sets this in motion and that is the part of the book that I found so utterly heart-breaking and upsetting. In fact, I cried and that doesn’t happen often to me when I read a book.
Hausfrau is an outstanding debut novel from Jill Alexander Essbaum and I can’t wait to see what she produces next.
Hausfrau is available to buy now from Waterstones
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