Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

review by Maryom

Anna is an American ex-pat living in Zurich with her Swiss husband and three young children - their life should be as picture-postcard perfect as the scenery around her, but to Anna everything seems empty and meaningless. Her relationship with husband Bruno has deteriorated to passing each other at meal-times, she has no friends and after nine years in the country still feels like an outsider. While Bruno suggests that a therapist may help, Anna mainly plays word games during her sessions and tries to avoid what lies at the root of her problems. In her newly-joined Swiss-German language class, Anna finds a better source of distraction, meeting Scotsman Archie and rapidly embarking on an affair. Archie, though, is not her first lover but just a step in a series of increasingly meaningless sexual encounters, and gradually Anna's life spirals out of control....

 In the age of equal-opportunities, Anna's somewhat of a rarity - a stay-at-home mother and housewife, neither of which roles seem to particularly appeal to her. She seems to deliberately isolate herself still further by her dependence on her husband and mother-in-law - she's never learned to drive, in nine years hasn't bothered to learn the language of her adopted home so can't make friends easily with the school-gate mums, and she doesn't even have a bank account! Her attitude contrasts sharply with that of new arrival in the country, Mary, who quickly signs up for a language course, busies herself around the house with domestic projects - baking and sewing -  and volunteers at her children's school.

The story is an intimate portrayal of a woman whose life is unravelling but it's hard to sympathise with Anna because she not only doesn't appreciate the good things of her life - caring husband, comfortable home, happy, healthy children -  but seems to actively be putting them at risk. There's a little bit of Anna Karenina and a lot of Emma Bovary about Anna but whereas both of these women were trapped by the attitudes of their time, this Anna seems to deliberately go out of her way to create a cage. She seems to judge her worth solely by how much she's loved - and if love fails, then by how much she's desired sexually.

Did I enjoy the book? well, up to a certain point the reader's learning about Anna, her back story and current circumstances, with the story unfolding through several threads - her home life, her meetings with therapist Doktor Messerli, her liaison with Archie - all of this I enjoyed; it's well written, a bit of a page-turner as I wanted to find out the secret Anna was hiding from everyone and at this stage Anna had my sympathy. But part way through, perhaps due to the similarities with Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, the ending becomes inevitable and obvious, and the story's grip on me slackened.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Mantle (Panmacmillan)

Genre - adult fiction, sexually explicit, 

Other reviews; PamReader

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