Claudia Putnam's Reviews > Hausfrau

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

liked it
bookshelves: literary-fiction

Very ambitious novel that I could not love. But I'd read the next thing this author writes. So there's this updated Emma Bovary person, but not as French. She's named Anna, after Anna K, but she's nowhere near as Russian. She could be Lady Chatterley, but she's already sexually awakened. She's your basic bored American housewife, with a distant American husband, except in Switzerland, and he's Swiss, which is much worse. One of the points, I think, is to explore why so many housewives are so bored and lonely and whether it's really because housewifing and mothering is in fact so boring or whether the fault is in the choices the wives and mothers make around how they approach it, and I think this novel is making the point that the women may well be at fault. They choose to stay home and they also choose to be bored by their choice. I tend to agree with this. Only boring people are bored.

Anna is an extreme case. As an expat in a closed society, she is a bit trapped. But: whose fault is it that she's been there nine years and can't speak the language? That she doesn't have a license to drive a car her family owns? That she doesn't have a job or doesn't want one? That she majored in home ec and yet has no interest in making a home? That she has no bank account? Why is she so passive, and why doesn't she analyze it, even with her analyst? Her parents died; there's that. But she was a loner well before that. We are never to know why. She isn't passive aggressive, she's aggressively passive, as her analyst points out. So, answer, Anna does bring a lot of this upon herself, which does not excuse her husband's inexcusable behavior, nor does it excuse the execrable culture of Switzerland. It is not housewifery and motherhood per se that fucks women up or isolates them or bores them.

She's depressed. Yet her psychiatrist, in a country in which I think there are more anti-depressants prescribed than anywhere else on earth, only gives her tranquilizers.

The sex was great. Many amazing insights are proffered by the author. I enjoyed those and wrote them in my journal and may use some of them in an essay I'm working on.

I did not think the Garp thing needed to happen. THAT was melodramatic. There were plenty of other bad, punishing things going on, and Charles's accident seemed awfully heavy-handed. Plus there were too many other things borrowed from other works of literature.

No one else seemed to pick up on MARY's passive-aggressive behavior, including in the discussion questions and in the interview with Gina Frangello at the end of the book. I thought, esp given Mary's confession about the worst thing she'd ever done, that Mary was definitely setting Anna up, both when she "teasingly" outed her in front of Bruno re Archie and then kept harping on Polly Jean's (what a dumb name) looks. And right after the tragedy! I think Mary was quite aware of what she was doing. Yet, the author and Frangello discussed Mary in terms of strong friendships among women. I call bullshit.

Anyhow everyone was an asshole and no one gave one shit about the children, no one.

Which was the only reason I was upset about what happened to Anna. The ending was otherwise fantastic.

The main thing for me is that I am really tired of alienated characters. As the analyst says, there are reasons and there are excuses. Anna has good reasons, but she is no different from an addict--she is addicted to her excuses and she never chooses to do without them, even when she sees through them. So, basically there is a second reason, which is, I do not want to deal with my excuses. Anna gets this about herself.

I suppose the point of being confronted with such a character is so that we can interrogate ourselves to understand the extent to which she may exist within us. I'm sure we each harbor a part of her.

Hm. Maybe I'll upgrade to 4 stars if I'm still thinking about this book in a month or so.
2 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Hausfrau.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

Started Reading
September 1, 2015 – Finished Reading
September 15, 2015 – Shelved
September 15, 2015 – Shelved as: literary-fiction

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Heather Vieiro It did make me think about myself, and how I act within my family. My conclusion by the end of the book was that it's not a book about sex and affairs and marriage, it was really all about her mental health. Everything else was just the smoke screen, but then when I thought back, it was pretty clear that she was more than just depressed. I am also tired of alienated characters and anti-heroes. I don't want to re-read Pollyanna, and I don't mind being shaken up by book, but I don't find much out there that leaves me inspired.

Claudia Putnam Yeah. What do you mean by more than "just depressed," though? I see depression as a major category of mental illness. Would you say she has a personality disorder, and if so, which one?

Heather Vieiro I didn't have a diagnosis. :) I had read several reviews saying she's a narcissist, but I just gave personality disorders a quick google and would say Anna is a Borderline Personality Disorder. Pyschology Today say..."the person essentially lacks a sense of self, and, as a result, experiences feelings of emptiness and fears of abandonment. There is a pattern of intense but unstable relationships, emotional instability, outbursts of anger and violence (especially in response to criticism), and impulsive behaviour. Suicidal threats and acts of self-harm are common, for which reason many people with borderline PD frequently come to medical attention."

Claudia Putnam Maybe...:) A lot of the same meds for Depression or Bipolar work for BPD, though. I don't know if she's a narcissist--incapable of love--I don't think she loves herself, either. She is self-involved, but I don't think she's organized around protecting her ego. I think the people around her are pretty awful to her as well. Borderline is possible but she doesn't seem that intense to me except in her kind of weird attachment to Polly's father. Maybe, though. Definitely fucked up.

back to top