One of the Huffington Post's most anticipated books of 2015
For readers of Claire Messud and Mary Gaitskill comes a striking debut novel of marriage, fidelity, sex, and morality, featuring a fascinating heroine who struggles to live a life with meaning.
Anna was a good wife, mostly.
Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno - a banker - and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her.
But Anna can't easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds it's difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.
Intimate, intense, and written with the precision of a Swiss Army knife, Jill Alexander Essbaum's debut novel is an unforgettable story of marriage, fidelity, sex, morality, and most especially self. Navigating the lines between lust and love, guilt and shame, excuses and reasons, Anna Benz is an electrifying heroine whose passions and choices readers will debate with recognition and fury. Her story reveals, with honesty and great beauty, how we create ourselves and how we lose ourselves and the sometimes disastrous choices we make to find ourselves.
©2015 Jill Alexander Essbaum (P)2015 Random House Audio
"A stunningly written, hauntingly paced book... Reading Hausfrau 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)
"Hausfrau stuns with its confidence and severe beauty, its cascading insights into the uses of erotic life and the nature of secrets, the urgency of compulsion, and the difficulty of freedom. This is a rare and remarkable debut." (Janet Fitch, number one New York Times best-selling 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?)
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"Wonderful writing; pathetic, passive protagonist &"
...deadly dull story.
1. Stellar writing
2. Meditations on the German and Swiss German language and how the verb tenses, etc. are a metaphor for Anna's life
3. Great audio narrator
What didn't work:
1. Everything else.
2. Relentlessly depressing book about a relentlessly depressed character.
3. Character has little insight or if she does, she doesn't do anything with it--the classic is her passivity. She admits she "lets" men sleep with her because she's passive, just doesn't have the energy or wherewithal to say, "No, I'm not going to have sex with you, my husband's friend, whom I've met 12 times but can't remember your name, out in the woods." Right.
4. I realized that even if the very little dialogue there is in this book, and Anna rarely says more than three short sentences at most--usually questions. We are stuck in her head the rest of the time.
5. Nothing makes her happy--except sex. Sort of. 99% of the book is about a woman who has/takes no pleasure or joy in her life (so the reader doesn't get any either). Not even her kids seem to evoke much feeling in her, though she clearly likes the younger two better--likes. Yeah, don't get any feeling that she loves them deeply but is just rather fond of them.
"I Really Tried"
I can handle books that are at their core very dull. I can handle books where the characters wallow in depression. I can even get through books where I don't "like" the main character. But I cannot handle a dull and depressing book about a character I can't stand. I don't have to have joyful HEA endings, but there has to be some small kernel of compassion or sympathy or even interest in or with the characters of a book or I cannot slog my way through it.
I read advance reviews of Hausfrau and while I thought it might be a tough read, it also piqued my interest and I was looking forward to reading it. Boy, was I disappointed. No, disappointed is too strong an emotion. If I had to sum up my feelings and thoughts about the book and it's characters in two words they would be "who cares?" There was not a single person in the book I found interesting enough to care what happened to them. Instead it was full of people that if I met them in real life, they would be instantly forgettable and never someone whose company I would be mildly interesting in keeping.
If the characters of this book existed in real life no one would ever think of writing their biography. There just wouldn't be any reason to justify it. So I am not sure why anyone would think it made sense to write a piece of fiction about them.
The narration was quite good. But that is the only positive comment I can make. I cannot recommend the book.
"Anticlimactic and Slow"
I've never listened to Mozhan Marno on any other audiobooks, but I immediately recognized her voice from TV shows that I've seen her on; I've always been a fan. She was the only real saving grace for this story. Enjoying Marno's narration was one of the only reasons that I forced myself to finish listening to this book.
I found this book to be anticlimactic and slow. The main character, Anna, was boring. The story is told mostly from her perspective, and I spent a lot of time wondering what the point of the story was, and why she was still rattling on and whining about nothing in particular. I felt that the book was vulgar for the sake of being vulgar. Sometimes I felt like it was trying to be one of those romantic novels with long-winded sex scenes. I had high hopes for this story and overall, the story was a big disappointment.
"Did I miss something?"
Yes, just to give the author another try. The Narration was great.
Nothing she did a great job.
Anna, what was the purpose. I was hoping to go deeper to gain an understanding of why she made the choices she made and why was it ok to cheat several times?
The reviews led me to believe there would be an enlightenment of sort but it was simply about a lady who lacked self control and tried to assuage responsibility by claiming that the "love was gone". Well get a divorce why have so many affairs?
What is the difference between shame and guilt? ...between secrecy and privacy? ...between a reason and an excuse? These questions and more have kept me pondering for days and have been the stimuli for some fascinating discussions with my husband and e-mails with a close friend. Other reviewers have been dissatisfied with this novel because Anna is self-indulgent and, in their view, "entitled." Yes, she is passive and self-indulgent, but why? The answers are here, but the reader must tease them out; it isn't in Anna's nature to make them explicit for us--even if she were able to do so. There is so much here that I will go back and listen to this audiobook again, paying particular attention to Anna's sessions with her psychotherapist and the extended metaphor of her German language lessons. Artfully written and beautifully narrated by Mozhan Marno, Hausfrau is definitely worthy of 5 stars.
Read Anna Karenina instead if you want to be depressed. Except Anna K. is more believable than this helpless and entitled creature.
This book was hard to enjoy because the main character is so unlikable! “Oh woe is me, I’m such a bad person, I deserve all the bad things that come to me... and I look to put myself in bad situations...” I don’t find any of that interesting – I find it tedious and self indulgent.
Also, nothing really happened in this story outside of the main character’s introspections... it made me wonder if the point of it all was just to be shocking??
What I did like about the book, and why I read it in the first place is because it takes place in Switzerland. That was a lot of fun! I have family in Switzerland, I speak and understand Schweizerdeutsch (Schwyzerdütsch) and have been to Switzerland many times so I got all the cultural references. I know where the town she lives in is, and was easily able to picture it all.
The narration was good, except for the doctor who’s accent was not Swiss but German. I would have been extra impressed had the narrator been able to do a Swiss accent! But it’s not easy – it’s just like French when people try to do a Quebecois accent and just sound Parisian.
If you like all the Swiss references in this book and want to learn more, I recommend Swiss Watching by Decon Lewis.
"A well-narrated book which surprised me"
I really enjoyed this audio and was stunned to read how many negative reviews the book has gotten on Audible.
First of all the narration is excellent, I have never heard this narrator before but I will look for other readings by her immediately.
Second, the book itself is a fascinating view of a person living in a foreign country. She faces enormous challenges integrating herself into a foreign society, which with I sympathized. Anna does not resolve these issues in time to save herself, but we get to enjoy her intelligent and pointed commentary about the Swiss language and the culture as we watch her struggle. As a person who has lived in another country prior to mastering its language I really found that aspect of the book to be quite engaging and a good reflection of the feelings I knew myself as an outsider sometimes ambivalent about my new 'home'.
Third, the character of Anna is very frustrating, but I saw the book as more of a meditation on Anna Karenina than as a character portrait of a real person. I thought it was fascinating to follow the author through the exploration of how a modern woman could end up in the same situation as Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I don't think I liked the character of Anna in Hausfrau, or some of the other characters but that did not prevent enjoying the book and its examination of their dilemmas.
There were issues that bothered me in the writing, such as the continued obsession with images of fire which didn't seem to lead anywhere, and I thought the ending was a bit prolonged, but nothing I felt while reading this book can relate to the very negative reactions other listeners describe. I enjoyed this audiobook quite a lot and found it very intelligent.
I hope that readers will give the book a chance - I wasn't able to read a book for months because nothing felt right, and once I listened to a sample of Hausfrau I had to buy it right away and read it straight through in only a few days during limited commuting hours. The narrator adds quite a lot to the experience and does wonderful accents and very expressive reading. The prose is also very beautiful and clever. I think the author is very promising and I look forward to reading more of her work.
The language is beautiful, especially if you know any German . The sex scenes are well-integrated into the story rather ther than simply existing for their own sake. The reading performance is excellent. I was often frustrated by the passivity of the heroine, but overall this was an enjoyable read.
Such an amazing read and performance. A truthful account of one's life told with poetic ease. For a moment I could've been reading Of Human Bondage. This book will become a classic for future generations. A nice surprise, sehr gut!
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