Wednesday, March 25, 2015

And then my heart burst. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum


Title: Hausfrau
Author: Jill Alexander Essbaum
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: March 17, 2015
Source: review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband Bruno and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Z├╝rich. 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 into with an ease that surprises even her. 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’s no going back. 

My Review:

I read Hausfrau and now I AM BROKEN INSIDE.

Honestly, I was a bit unsure of this book during the first half.  Hausfrau is getting a ton of buzz right now, and as I jumped into the text, I had to spend some time unraveling Anna's inner turmoil.  At first, I found myself getting rather annoyed with her--what business does she have, cheating on her husband at every turn?  Ignoring her kids in favor of another tryst?  I even was (dare I say it?) bored for a chapter or two as things played out.  (And, I should note (for those who'd like the content warning), they do play out quite graphically.  It got a little 50 Shades of Grey up in there for a while.)  But as the details came together, I began to realize that Anna isn't a stereotypical desperate housewife.  Anna is really and truly depressed.  And this book captures her downward spiral in the most heartbreakingly stunning way.

I think that's the best thing to know going into this book: there is no catch here.  There's no mystery behind Anna's background that's going to explain her actions to you (I kept waiting for some big reveal about her past that didn't happen).  This book is a character study in depression, plain and simple.  And depression doesn't usually have one root cause that can be so quickly explained.

Even though there is no big revelation about Anna along the way, there is a rather significant plot change that occurs in the second half, and this is where my heart basically imploded and I could.not.stop.reading until the very end.  Oh, the sadness, my friends.  I felt so deeply for Anna by the end of this novel.  I don't get real attached to characters in novels most of the time, but I felt emotionally entrenched in her story for sure.

And the ending.  This book could make my favorites list for the year simply because of how well Essbaum wrote the last page.  I won't spoil it for you but just...amazingly poignant.

Do you like character-driven novels?  Do you like to feel all the feels (and I don't even like that phrase), especially the depressingly sad ones?  Then Hausfrau will be the most well-written novel to make you cry in 2015.  HANDS DOWN.

What's the last book that really and truly tugged at your heartstrings?  Made you cry?

10 comments:

  1. I'm glad this one turned around for you! Unfortunately, can't say the same for me :( I agree with you about being bored in the beginning and that the ending did pick up a bit (but I didn't get as into it as you did). But, I'm not convinced this was a true character study in depression. I felt like she was more dithering and weak and just getting carried along...at least for a large part of the story. I just didn't find myself ever getting emotionally involved and had trouble caring what happened to her. Anyway - lots to talk about with this one!

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    1. I just commented on your review, so I won't repeat myself much here :) I think the flashbacks to how her depression was handled as a child/teen was part of what made her a stronger character for me. But lots of different views on this one for sure!

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  2. "Anna is really and truly depressed." Yes! Thank you, thank you. I totally agree on this and I felt like it's where many readers diverged. I talked about it in our Socratic Salon post today, but I think the fact that she's wealthy and "should" be happy makes it difficult for many people to see.

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    1. I saw the SS post, haven't had a chance to comment yet! But yes, I do think she is really depressed...I think in the first half of the book, I was doubtful of that, but once you see how her parents/teachers had tried to get her help (unsuccessfully) in the past, it becomes clearer that she is truly battling a mental illness.

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  3. I loved this one, too, Kelly; every heartbreaking page of it. She's just so broken and it's too late for anyone or anything to save her. I don't like her husband at all, and I can't imagine having to live with him in a foreign country, raise children and pretend for everything to be okay. You'll have to check out some of the comments at The Socratic Salon, mentioned by Shannon (http://socraticsalon.com/2015/03/hausfrau-by-jill-alexander-essbaum/); different perspectives are always fun! So glad you made it through this one; it was definitely a beautiful piece of literature.

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    1. Thanks for the SS link, I love their new site! Yes, tons of varied opinions on this one--it would be a great book club book for sure. And agreed about her husband, ugh!! She already had the deck stacked against her, and then got stuck with him...

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  4. I think you and I were the same person as we read this. Agree 100x over with everything you've said!

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    1. After reading your review, I knew you would! haha.

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  5. I also felt as though there was going to be a big reveal and was surprised that there wasn't. I ended up feeling bored for the majority of the book though. I just can't get excited about a character who doesn't seem to care about anything themselves.

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    1. Yes, I've read several other reviews now that expressed similar frustration with Anna. She's a polarizing character for sure. I think her actions can be interpreted in several different ways, and the one you choose completely colors your overall enjoyment of the novel. Makes for good discussion, at least! :)

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