Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum: I’m Not Buying the Hype

FictionHausfrau, Jill Alexander Essbaum
Released March 17, 2015
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: eGalley provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Plot Summary

The story of Anna Benz, a young woman, who despite her comfortable life in Switzerland with her husband and three children, tries to make herself feel alive by having affairs.

My Thoughts

I had been anxiously awaiting this debut novel because A) the premise sounded scandalous and juicy and B) it’s been getting lots of great buzz in the book blogging community. Also, Essbaum is getting praise for her fantastic writing, which has been the predominant factor drawing me to certain books lately. But, I had a hard time getting into the story, put it down at 25%, and read another book before coming back and forcing myself to finish it. So, what happened to such a shining prospect?

Things I Didn’t Like
  • I found the story somewhat boring (especially in the beginning, but it picked up a bit towards the end) and emotionless. By emotionless, I mean I didn’t really care at all about what would happen next. I don’t normally shy away from books with dislikable characters (Anna is pretty dislikable), but I do have to care about where the story will go and I didn’t in this case. 
  • This book is very much about what goes on in Anna’s head and I did not find her interesting. She does scandalous things, but the mental processes behind her actions are not very intriguing. She’s weak and dithering. She doesn’t have some big dream that being a mother and a housewife was preventing her from achieving…she just didn’t have any idea what she wanted out of life…at all. She actually reminded me of Annie in A Small Indiscretion, who did outrageous things essentially because she was too timid to take charge of her own actions.
  • There was a fair amount of dream analysis between Anna and her psychotherapist. These felt like “stories within stories” to me, which always drive me crazy in novels because they pull the reader out of the “real” story.
  • I kept asking myself “what’s the point” (never a good thing to be asking about a book you’re reading!)? I couldn’t really find an answer for awhile, but decided that it’s possibly a cautionary tale. 
Things I Liked
  • Essbaum tells the story mostly from Anna’s perspective, but intersperses her psychotherapist’s comments at various moments. I liked this set-up because the doctor’s perspective gives the reader a much needed respite from Anna’s frustrating thought processes. And, many of the quotes I highlighted were from Anna’s doctor.
  • The writing is very good and I highlighted a lot, but it wasn’t fantastic enough to cover up everything else.
  • I liked learning about the culture of the Swiss. For example, smiling will give you away as American, the Swiss are “ruthlessly polite, but tediously reserved”, and they’re very strict about cleanliness, but tolerate graffiti everywhere.

Essentially, Anna is like a train wreck where it’s hard to look away, but the problem was that I had absolutely no trouble looking away. I realize my opinion of this one is in the minority (see River City ReadingChronicles, and Running N Reading for some glowing reviews), so you may want to check it out yourself before making a decision.

Note: If you have already read Hausfrau, check out The Socratic Salon‘s discussion of the book. Careful, there will be spoilers!

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  1. Well said! If we all liked the same things, the world would be a very boring place. Thanks for the shoutout.

    Posted 3.25.15 Reply
  2. Sorry this one didn’t work out so well for you! I didn’t find myself bored by Anna, I think I was pretty fascinated by her mindest and the writing pushed me along. Thanks for mentioning TSS – I hope you’ll come by and share your thoughts if you have a chance!

    Posted 3.25.15 Reply
  3. Carmen wrote:

    I haven’t read the book and don’t intend to either, but when I read the small blurb I told myself where could this story go beside the protagonist having affairs… and I couldn’t find a satisfying answer.

    Posted 3.25.15 Reply
  4. Kelly wrote:

    Well, part of me wishes I read a few other reviews before I wrote mine (I try not to read many before I do my own, so they won’t change my opinion), because yours is definitely not the only one that dislikes it! The book seems rather polarizing, actually–people either gush over it, or majorly pan it. I can see what you mean though, because as I said, I found myself a little bored in the first half as well. It’s hard to say exactly what made it come together in the end. I think part of it was the small glimpses we had of her past–her parents had obviously tried to get her help for her depression when she was younger, but it was always pushed off…I don’t think Anna was ever given the chance to develop any coping skills for her mental illness (if that’s what this is). And as such, was unable to fully develop any meaning in her life. That’s my take, anyway.

    Also, I just found it so sad when she was finally reaching out for help at the critical moment at the end, and every option kept failing her. Such an emotional conclusion!

    I do find it interesting that this book has so much buzz around it–I’m looking forward to reading more reviews as well! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

    Posted 3.26.15 Reply
  5. Oh jeez, this book is so polarizing! I keep reading reviews and everyone either loves it or hates it and I should probably stop reading reviews and just read the book at this point. But now I’m nervous. But also it’s right on the table beside me. I could definitely see it being boring, but I also forgive a lot for prose… So torn.

    Posted 3.29.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Ha! Yes – you’ve pretty much summed up this book I think! I do think you should read it. At least give it a shot. The writing is good, but I didn’t think it was out of his world. I think it also depends a lot on the perspective you bring to the book with how you feel about Anna. Enough people love it that you should definitely try it…and, maybe it’s a good thing that expectations have been tempered a little bit. I tend to get disappointed when I go in with expectations that are too high 🙂 Let me know how it goes if you try it – and, if you make it all the way through, check out the discussion post on Socratic Salon…it’s a great discussion no matter how you feel about the book!

      Posted 3.29.15 Reply
  6. Shaina wrote:

    It’s so interesting to me that you found Anna weak and dithering… while I do agree she didn’t seem to have much direction in life, I didn’t read her character as “weak,” necessarily. Just… confused. Frustrated. Hopeless. I certainly don’t endorse her actions, but I can sympathize with her situation and understand how she wound up in the situations she did.

    I think we’d all like to think that, in Anna’s situation, we’d have *spoilers ahoy* dumped the crap out of Bruno (or maybe not gotten together with him at all in the first place), but inertia is real.

    Anyway, sorry this one didn’t work out for you! I’m glad to hear The Affair was better. 😉

    Posted 4.9.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I think I felt like she was dithering because of the rationale behind her actions. She seemed to just “go along” with whatever. If one of her paramours texted her to meet up, she’d just go b/c he texted her. Even if she didn’t find him attractive or really want to spend time with him. Nothing she did seemed of her own volition…it’s like she was just letting life happen to her without any control over her actions.

      As far as the inertia, I don’t blame her at all for that. And even beyond inertia…she was in a situation that would have been next to impossible for her to get out of. I think I just wish that she’d gotten so angry at her situation that she’d made the decision to deal with it by having affairs. Instead, I felt like she was unhappy, didn’t know what to do about it, these affairs kind of fell in her lap, and she went with it because she didn’t have to actually make choices. I could see her getting out her frustration almost any other way if that particular way had fallen in her lap instead of the cheating.

      Sorry that was long-winded. Thanks so much for your comment – great discussion point!

      Posted 4.10.15 Reply
  7. Yes, exactly! This reminded me a lot of A Small Indiscretion too and I really couldn’t get into either protagonist. I think an unlikable protagonist with a great backstory and motivation explaining why they are the way they are can be fascinating, but these two protagonists didn’t seem to reason out their actions. They just drifted.

    Posted 4.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Well said – I 100% agree. I think my biggest issue was that the book just failed to generate any emotion in me.

      Posted 4.15.15 Reply

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