Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Hausfrau – “housewife” in German. I can’t get this new book out of my mind and wanted to start reading it all over again when I finished it! If I had my own eBook or a paper copy I would have been highlighting like crazy throughout the entire book as there were that many things I wanted to remember – profound quotes, insights, meaningful words. The book is beautifully written (the author is a poet) and so thought-provoking! I predict that this will be a book people will be talking about a lot in 2015 and it is now, officially, my top book of the year, so far.
Anna is an ex-pat American married to a Swiss banker, Bruno, living outside Zurich, Switzerland. They have three children, two young sons and a baby daughter. Anna has never adapted to life in Switzerland, has no real friends, does not know the language/dialect, her husband is not very loving/supportive/present, her mother-in-law does not really accept her, and Anna really doesn’t know what to do with herself. She is not a typical housewife and is extremely lonely. She is not happy at all and has no real support system. She is finally seeing a psychotherapist (Jungian) and has, finally, after 9 years, started taking German lessons, as her children are bi-lingual and she knows almost no German after all this time living in Switzerland. She is severely depressed, but it is not really acknowledged or dealt with. She can’t sleep well at night and often goes outside in the middle of night to the top of a hill behind her home and sits on a bench. Her psychiatrist prescribes some medication, but Anna does not take it, and the doctor doesn’t follow up. The way Anna deals with her unhappy life is by having affairs, multiple affairs, which are meaningless and not fulfilling, except for the sex. She does not open up to anyone, including her therapist or her husband or her new Canadian friend she meets in German class, about her real feelings or what she is doing. She does not work outside the home and barely parents her children, although she loves them (her mother-in-law helps out every day); as she is too busy meeting her lovers and escaping from her life as a hausfrau.
It is interesting that I read this book right after reading another, similar book, A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison, which was also really good. They would be interesting to compare/contrast in a book discussion group, along with Anna Karenina, which Hausfrau has many parallels to.
Some of the events that happened towards the end and at the end I did not see coming, although they are totally fitting and very ,very sad. I’m still not even totally sure about the ending (what really happened), but it is very tragic. Anna was totally lost and felt she had no one to turn to, although she has an epiphany, of sorts, about how her life really was, but it’s really too late for late. Sad sad sad.
To get a flavor for the book, here are some telling quotes from the book:
“Narcissism isn't vanity, Anna. We're all narcissists to a degree. A measure of narcissism is healthy. But out of balance, what was once appropriate self-confidence becomes grandiose, pathological, and destructive. You have little regard for those around you. You do what you will with a libertine's abandon. Boredom sets in. A bored woman is a dangerous woman.”
“...analysis isn't pliers, and truth is not teeth: you can't pull it out by force. A mouth stays closes as long as it wants to. Truth is told when it tells itself.”
“An obsession is a defense against feeling out of control. A compulsion is the failure of that defense.”
“Pain is the proof of life”
And there are so many more. The book is told from the present and the past and the psychotherapy appointments, all interwoven, and back and forth. Even the German lessons at her language classes are instructive and different from any language classes I ever had! I think there is not a page that doesn’t have some thought-provoking phrase in it.
There is SO much to say about this book, almost more than any other book I’ve read this year. I could go on and on. (I might edit/add to this review later, as I think about it more). I know it will stay with me a long time, and I know I will read it again. It just resonated with me and the author is a brilliant writer. I highly recommend this book!
*I received this book for free from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.*
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