There’s nothing like a cracking opening line to hook you into a book. Hausfrau is one of those books.
Anna was a good wife, mostly.
There is so much contained within that one little sentence. It’s weighted with intrigue. It tells so much about the main character. I love it.
Anna married Bruno Benz because she was in a ‘version of love’ with him, and subsequently moved to Switzerland and started a family with him. After nine years of marriage and living in Dietlikon, a suburb of Zurich, she still feels isolated and estranged from everyone. She hasn’t learned the language, has very few friends and doesn’t even have a bank account. Her banker husband takes care of everything – the finances, any necessary paperwork and major life decisions.
Passive by nature, Anna struggles to make decisions for herself, instead allowing herself to go with the flow of events that she is presented with. She struggles to connect with her own emotions and deflects deep introspection when challenged by her therapist.
“A lonely woman is a dangerous woman.” Doktor Messerli spoke with a grave sincerity.
To compensate for her boredom and listlessness, Anna indulges in fleeting affairs, which are one of the few ways that she can feel anything. One of her affairs is intense, she falls in love, but her passivity prevents her from acting on her feelings, and so when he leaves she is devastated. Haunted by deep loneliness and sadness, Anna attracts more and more men, which leads to a web of deceit in which she ultimately becomes stuck and then undone by a trajectory of events that she could never have anticipated. She tries to right her wrongs, but some things cannot be undone, and she pays a terrible price for her actions.
“Love’s a sentence, Anna thought. A death sentence.”
Anna takes German classes at a language school and Jill Alexander Essbaum has woven in some wonderful parallels between the structure of learning German and Anna’s outlook on life. I admire Essbaum’s ability to apply the rules of grammar to life. It’s clever, witty and unexpected.
Hausfrau is beautifully written with a complexity that slowly unravels, just as Anna’s life unravels. Her loneliness is an ache that reaches off the page and ensnares you. Her desperation for comfort and human contact is tangible. She has a deep unfulfilled yearning for something that she can’t quite identify.
She may be a bit of an adulteress, but reserve your judgements for a moment, or until you’ve read the book. Bruno may bring home the bacon but he hasn’t bothered to set up a bank account for her. Pfft, passive or not, it doesn’t mean he can’t give her some independence. Not only that, he shuns her English-speaking friends making it clear that they are outsiders, are not and never will be a part of the local crowd. Throw in a haughty, unaccepting mother in-law and you start to get a clearer idea of Anna’s life.
Anyone who has spent an extended amount of time living in another country will be able to identify with Anna’s feelings of being adrift, not quite being able to fully connect with others, or the culture, and the chasm that exists through simply not being native to that place. How does one bridge those gaps? By the time Anna gains clarity on this and realises how much she had, she has lost everything.
I finished Hausfrau a few days ago and have moved on to another book, yet still it haunts me, fragments of it interrupt my current reading. It was such a good book that I fear it may taint my opinion of my next read!
My kindle copy of Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum (Mantle 2015)
Author FB page: https://www.facebook.com/Jill-Alexander-Essbaum-26042908691/