Disfunction amongst the cuckoo clocks and chocolate…

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum is a modern spin on Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary – basically every sad woman-at-home story you can think of. Unlike the women in the current crop of domestic noir, our heroine Anna Benz doesn’t get angry, vengeful, energised by her situation or even, well, even.
She just gets sadder and sadder and sadder. To relieve the sadness and the blah of her affluent life in a small Swiss town with three kids, she has sex with inappropriate people. I suspect the mix of sadness and graphic sex will make some people say this is a brave exploration of the ennui of a desperate housewife. Yeah…but no…

Anna appears to have been sad and searching for the cure all her life: I ended up feeling nothing is going to make her happy. An American, she married a Swiss man she believed she was in love with, they have been living in Switzerland for nine years when we meet her. She can barely speak the language, doesn’t have a Swiss drivers licence or a bank account anywhere in the world (a bit too hopeless and not really believable, given her parents died in her very early twenties – what did she do, carry it all round in her purse?). Her husband, although sometimes a jerk, isn’t exactly oppressing or restricting her – she just hasn’t organised any of this stuff. He is a bit fed up with her wilting (at the moment she is extra-limp as she is still crazy in love with one of the inappropriate people – who dumped her) all over the place, so has asked her to go see a psychiatrist. Who she basically lies to about how she feels, while carrying on in a there’ll-be-tears-before-bedtime-risky-whirl with a bloke she meets at language class.
There are tears before bedtime.

She just annoyed me, and I came to work and raged at my colleagues about her. Although as they pointed out – I did finish the book and, a week later I am still thinking about it. The writing is really good, and there is a lot to think about – I just think it might be mostly about one individual’s debiltating, insidious mental illness rather than her overwheening boredom with / oppression by hearth and home. Like the train at the end, she is on fixed tracks and cannot get off them.

Really worth reading but be in the right frame of mind yourself…


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