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Hausfrau: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 17, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month for March 2015: You are quickly reminded while reading Hausfrau that Essbaum is first a poet. Her descriptions—from Anna's mundane trips through the market to her extracurricular erotic trysts—are laced with poetic precision. Anna, an American, has found herself living in her Swiss husband's world of suburban Zurich. We travel with her as she fumbles to live up to all it means to be a good wife, mother, and daughter-in-law while she searches to understand something more and, maybe, somehow, to disrupt the everyday monotony. Flashbacks to the memories Anna allows us, along with poignant glimpses into her regular counseling sessions, are the only clues we are given to try to piece together what is truly going on inside Anna's mind. Where Hausfrau really catches you off guard is in the complete journey you find yourself haven taken at the end. I quickly found myself captivated and unable to step away from Anna’s every day and as I read the last sentence of the book I was haunted. My thoughts travelled back through the story - the realizations settled in an amazement to all that had happened…and hadn't. Essbaum, in her crafting of Hausfrau, executes a story that's telling is just as artful as the story told… a quiet disruption that I still find myself thinking about weeks after reading. – Penny Mann
“In Hausfrau, Anna Karenina goes Fifty Shades with a side of Madame Bovary.”—Time
“A debut novel about Anna, a bored housewife who, like her Tolstoyan namesake, throws herself into a psychosexual journey of self-discovery and tragedy.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Sexy and insightful, this gorgeously written novel opens a window into one woman’s desperate soul.”—People
“Elegant . . . There is much to admire in [Jill Alexander] Essbaum’s intricately constructed, meticulously composed novel, including its virtuosic intercutting of past and present.”—Chicago Tribune
“For a first novelist, Essbaum is extraordinary because she is a poet. Her language is meticulous and resonant and daring.”—NPR’s Weekend Edition
“In Jill Alexander Essbaum’s promising novel, we meet Anna Benz, an increasingly desperate American housewife and mother of three in her late thirties, positively brimming with ennui. . . . We’re in literary territory as familiar as Anna’s name, but Essbaum makes it fresh with sharp prose and psychological insight.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“This marvelously quiet book is psychologically complex and deeply intimate—as sexy as it is sad. . . . Though Anna, as heroine, has literary precedent, Essbaum has gracefully combined the mundane of the familial, graphic sex scenes, linguistics lessons and precise passages of psychological expertise into something utterly original. Essbaum has written one of the smartest novels in recent memory.”—The Dallas Morning News
“Jill Alexander Essbaum’s poignant, shocking debut novel rivets.”—Us Weekly
“A powerful, lyrical novel . . . Hausfrau boasts taut pacing and melodrama, but also a fully realized heroine as love-hateable as Emma Bovary and a poet’s fascination with language. . . . The beauty of Hausfrau, however, is the freshness it brings to a trope seemingly beaten into the ground. . . . In Anna, we don’t see a sinfully passionate naif throwing her life away on a doomed quest for love, à la Bovary or Karenina. Such a parallel hardly seems possible in these liberal modern times when divorce is common and premarital sex expected. But the numbed, uncertain person at the heart of Hausfrau is uniquely compelling.”—The Huffington Post
“[Essbaum’s] first foray into fiction has already drawn references to Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. . . . But the self-alienation of the American wife of a Swiss banker, resulting in Jungian analysis and reckless serial adultery, feels more contemporary, subjective, and just plain funny than classical bourgeois ennui. Imagine Tom Perrotta’s American nowheresvilles swapped out for a tidy Zürich suburb, sprinkled liberally with sharp riffs on Swiss-German grammar and European hypocrisy.”—New York
“Hausfrau, a psychological trip about ‘a good wife, mostly’ who enters into a series of messy affairs and impulsive adventures, is brain-surgically constructed to fascinate you, entertain you, and then make you question what a life lived with meaning looks like—all with a sense of poetic discipline and introspection.”—Los Angeles Magazine
“Over a century after the publication of Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, poet Essbaum proves in her debut novel that there is still plenty of psychic territory to cover in the story of ‘a good wife, mostly.’ . . . The realism of Anna’s dilemmas and the precise construction of the novel are marvels of the form. . . . This novel is masterly as it moves toward its own inescapable ending, and Anna is likely to provoke strong feelings in readers well after the final page.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[Anna’s] story will fascinate and thrill the most modern readers, even if you don’t agree with her decisions.”—Bustle
“Hausfrau packs romance, sex, and infidelity into the story about a woman searching for meaning in her life.”—PopSugar
“In Anna Benz, Essbaum has created a genuine, complex woman whose journey—no matter how dark it may be—reveals truths as only great literature can. She may have her roots in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Flaubert’s Emma Bovary or Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, but she is a thoroughly modern and distinct character. Hausfrau is not just an exceptional first novel, it is an extraordinary novel—period.”—Shelf Awareness
“[Essbaum’s protagonist] shares more than her name with that classic adulteress, Anna Karenina, but Essbaum has given a deft, modern facelift to the timeless story of a troubled marriage and tragic love in this seductive first novel.”—Booklist
“With an elegance, precision, and surehandedness that recalls Marguerite Duras’s The Lover and Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac, Jill Alexander Essbaum gives us this exquisite tale of an expatriate American wife living in Switzerland and her sexual and psychic unraveling. Hausfrau stuns with its confidence and severe beauty, its cascading insights into the nature of secrets, the urgency of compulsion and the difficulty of freedom. This is a rare and remarkable debut.”—Janet Fitch, #1 New York Times bestselling author of White Oleander
“I was mesmerized by this book. Hausfrau creates a complete, engrossing, and particular world where nothing is as easy as it should be, according to the hopeful stories we tell ourselves. It’s a corrective novel, taking character, destiny, and our choices as seriously as a novelist can.”—Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be?
“I loved this brilliant, insightful, and devastating novel about Anna: trains . . . adultery . . . the punctual, rigid Swiss . . . Jungian analysis . . . anhedonia . . . more adultery and more trains . . . and Jill Alexander Essbaum’s beautiful sentences strewn with sharp thorns that prick and cut straight into the heart of a woman’s unfulfilled life. I wish I had written it.”—Lily Tuck, National Book Award–winning author of The News from Paraguay
“A stunningly written, hauntingly paced book. Anna Benz has the weight of a classic heroine—isolated yet crowded—but she is utterly modern in Jill Alexander Essbaum’s hands. ReadingHausfrau is like staring at a painting that simultaneously seduces and disturbs. Even when you want to turn away, you find your feet are planted to the floor.”—Sloane Crosley, author of I Was Told There’d Be Cake
“Hot damn, is Hausfrau a beautiful, heart-wrenching novel. It casts a spell that doesn’t stop working until that wonderful final line. Jill Alexander Essbaum has a seismic talent, and it shows on every page of her first novel. Just read this bad boy. Like right now.”—Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver
“This debut brilliantly chronicles a woman’s life falling apart.”—The Times (U.K.)
“Uncompromising . . . [a] seductive debut.”—The Guardian (U.K.)
“Riveting and shocking.”—Marie Claire (U.K.)
“The book that will have everyone talking.”—Cosmopolitan (U.K.)
“This slow-burning literary novel of marital disintegration will leave you in bits. It’s a bleak, but beautiful read, with echoes of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.”—Glamour (U.K.)
“This book is sheer sex and madness, written in one of the most amazing voices I’ve ever read.”—Bookriot
“Hausfrau is authentic in its depiction of a strikingly passive woman whose betrayals overwhelm her. There are distinct echoes of Anna Karenina. But it is the wordcraft, structure and restrained intimacy of this first novel that make it a standout.”—BBC
“[An] insightful and shocking portrait of a woman on the edge.”—Woman & Home (U.K.)
“With more than a passing resemblance to Anna Karenina . . . [Hausfrau will] be a book club winner.”—Stylist (U.K.)
“The ghost of Anna Karenina haunts the poet Jill Alexander Essbaum’s debut, Hausfrau, about an American in Zürich with the perfect husband, perfect sons and perfect home; but she is far from the perfect wife.”—Harper’s Bazaar (U.K.)
Top customer reviews
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Through Anna’s Jungian analysis sessions and German language classes, Essbaum delivers poignant philosophical quandaries and linguistic allegories that challenge Anna to question her motives, her desires, and her sense of self as she engages in one affair after another in an attempt to fill a void.
This book is not for everyone. Many readers will find Anna’s unrelenting sullenness, self-destructive behavior and apathy infuriating and monotonous - perhaps oppressively morose. I loved it though. Anna is a flawed, unlikable character, yes, but deeply fascinating nonetheless. And in spite of her self-proclaimed passivity and weakness, it’s impossible not to question if maybe these very characteristics are in their own way a form of control. One makes a choice to be passive - and if passivity is the antithesis of happiness, then maybe Anna willingly resists happiness subconsciously.
This is a carefully crafted, intellectually stimulating debut novel in which every single word feels like it was selected for a reason. I’m curious if other readers will love it as much as I did.
By the way, the publisher's ridiculous Ad hype: Madame Bovary Meets 50 Shades of Grey, has nothing to do with this novel. Buy it for the hype and you'll be grievously disappointed.
Such choices make Anna an unusual woman. And I enjoy reading about women who don't fit the mold, who make bad or wrong or unique choices, who live a life in which getting married and having children is not the single minded goal. I did not like Anna or her choices. But I liked reading about her.
If you like dark stories told in lush, lyrical language, this one's worth reading. But not if you're looking for a happy ending.
Most recent customer reviews
Wish Anna was stronger or found a better end game