Book Review – Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

by Maryse on October 25, 2016 · 8 comments

in My Book Reviews

Hausfrau: A Novel
One of the BEST, controversial books I’ve ever read (easily 5 stars for me!!!), and for all of the best and worst reasons. It’s no wonder its been touted as best read of the year by so many of the BIGGEST magazines and review columns, and yet… vilified by others. This is NOT an easy read, and by the end, I was a mental and emotional mess.

My book-twin, Amy INSISTED that I read this. She loves the crazy-angsty, who-knows-how-it-will-end ones like I do, and she bought it for me. She knew I could handle this.

Amy: The pacing is CRAZY different in that it goes from present to recent past to a conversation with her psychiatrist and back to present then to long-ago past and back to present, with only a few line spaces to note the transition. It honestly took a bit for me to adjust to all that, but now that I have I can see how each part ties in with the others. It’s actually pretty brilliant. ;) And oh lord, she is a hot freaking mess.

Amy: “It was too much. At the top of the hill she yelled, she shook out her hands, she stomped her feet. ‘G**dammit!’ She fell to her knees. She curled to a ball on the cold, rocky path. ‘Fix this! Fucking make it stop!’

OMG…I think my chest just caved in…I feel like I’ve been throat punched…my eyes are watery…I wasn’t expecting where the story went and it HURTS. Hausfrau definitely isn’t for everyone (especially if you don’t like h’s who stray), but if you’re a reading twin of mine then you *have* to read this one. If for nothing more than to experience the unique way it unfolds. Excuse me while I go and eat my weight in lemon creme pound cake.

Amy: And yeah, Hausfrau is intense which I’m sure you can infer from the blurb. :? Angsty? To an extent but not as angsty as other infidelity books because it is more focused on the why as opposed to the what, if that makes sense. What’s killing me right now is an event which just happened that I didn’t expect, and it adds a whole new angle to the devastation of her choices.

Amy: Maryse! You have to read Hausfrau. HAVE to. It was just so, so different. She is the perfect antiheroine and I never hated her or even disliked her, even when I was shocked by her actions. SHOCKED. It just reads so matter of fact, and even though the back and forth between past and present was disconcerting at first, once I adjusted to it I *loved* it. I think I’m still reeling from the last part of it. Remember how Drowning Instinct was different from other teacher-student books? Well, this one is different from other cheating books. I don’t care that it has a lower rating on Amazon (just over 3 stars overall)…I will keep gushing about it!

And still, I hesitated. The writing… it was so… deep. So intense. And I knew I had to be ready for it. In the mood.

Amy: I’m throwing this out there again ’cause, ya know, broken record and all that. ;)

Hausfrau.

She is THE anti-heroine. I was shocked and appalled by her actions. One in particular I despised. But I *never* despised her. Not once. She was a mess but I didn’t care…I loved being a voyeur into her life.

As for if she doesn’t get the guy…well, we all know *someone* always gets hurt when there is cheating going on in our books. That’s all I’m saying. ;) That ending…I’ve never reacted this way to a book, but after I read the last line I ended up walking in circles and holding my head for like 5 minutes. I’m so not kidding. I literally did that. It still makes my heart and gut clench when I think of it.

It’s not a “feel-good” book but damn if it didn’t pack an emotional punch and mess with my head. And the last line…I still get the chills from it. I think I’m the only one here who has read it which is why I have mentioned it so many times. I need some commiseration. ;)

R: I finished Hausfrau. Going to throw myself in front of a train now. Or shoot tequila. My options are endless. Hausfrau Maryse. Read it. I loved it an hour ago, but Amy just pointed something out and now I LOVE it. And I’m seriously disturbed. Taking Manny and none of you can stop me.

Amy: R…do you see why I ended up holding my head and walking around in circles for, like, five minutes after I finished it?!? It was late at night and I was all, “how the %&$# am I supposed to sleep after THAT??” I’m so glad you loved it! :D

Amy: MARYSE!!!!!! *points to R’s comment about Hausfrau* *raises eyebrows*

*snort*

Okay okay… I was FINALLY ON IT.

Maryse: I LOVE me a book hangover, R… definitely moving it up my TBR, and I’m officially on it. … I’m on it Amy!! This time I promise!!!! :D

Amy: MARYSE!! I *know* I don’t have to tell you how excited I am for you to start Hausfrau!!!! <—— get the popcorn ready, R. ;)

Maryse: Only 10% into Hausfrau but I’m TOTALLY into it. Love the writing style… and her thoughts.

Amy: Maryse…EXACTLY. The writing style (to me) was just so matter-of-fact. I was addicted pretty much right away. I really liked how there were scenes from the present, the recent past, the past further back, and with her psychoanalyst, and how they were perfectly timed throughout the story.

And once I started it properly, I could barely put it down.

Maryse: R and Amy!! I’m almost done Hausfrau and I love it. It’s such a moody and deep, often random and yet completely focused book. It’s so hard to explain, but the writing is exquisite and the story has me hooked. You’d almost think to say it’s a slow-moving read, but it’s not. It just lulls you into its atmospheric feel. And I keep wondering… what the heck is going to happen?! She’s so self destructive and reckless, but like Amy… I can’t hate her, because there’s something so painful in her heart and her psyche.

R: Yes Maryse! The writing style is my favorite part. I love how she compares her German classes and the German language to real life and her situation.

Amy: Good lord, Maryse…you articulated it perfectly. I knew she had brought so much on herself with how she isolated herself and kept making destructive decisions, but I ached for her. You know what else I thought was pretty brilliant? How the conversations between her and the one lover related to fires and such were tied seamlessly into the storyline at any given time. I’m curious…where are you at in it?

Maryse: I’m passed *spoiler*…

bev: When it is self destruction it is still hard for me to read, but more understandable. Especially when a person is hurt inside. What I have a hard time with, in real life also, when they rain it down on others. Every one does it occasionally, but when it keeps happening. ….

R: Maryse! I totally agree! My heart broke for her. She was wrong and she knew she was wrong but it was too late. She was too far gone. I think some people read this thinking she’s just this selfish “b,” but she’s not at all. I don’t think a person can be selfish when there isn’t any “self” left to lose.

Amy: Alright, Maryse…I’m picking up the mixings right now for Godiva chocolate martinis. Extra strong ones. Because…well, you’re past *spoiler*. Tells me all I need to know. ;)

Maryse: Wow.

Maryse: OMG. I knew… and yet. whoa. I’m…

Maryse: I need to get this book, in real format. Signed. And I can just… stare at it.

Amy: Holy moly, I checked in at EXACTLY the right moment. Just in time for your reaction. You’re feeling the full impact of that last line, right? *slides chocolate martini over*

Maryse: I’m telling you Amy… I dunno what to tell you. That was just… wow.

R: That’s what I’m saying. When I finished it, I wrote her. I HAD TO. I’ve never done that! “Uh, excuse me…sorry to bother you, but I need to thank you for writing your book.” I’m so happy I did because she is the kindest person. I’m dying to read more by her. She writes poetry too. I need to look into that.

Maryse: R.. She is one of the best writers, authors, storytellers, whatever you want to call it… that I have ever read in my entire life. Poetic, beautiful and so ugly. It was truly amazing and … just real. I felt it.

Amy: I know, Maryse. I KNOW. And just think…I had to go through all of that ALONE. Now do you get the whole “holding my head and walking in circles” I was doing?

Maryse: I’m exhausted. Just so wrung out by this story, and yet, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing. I have not one single complaint. Not one hiccup. It is… as it is. And it’s perfect.

Amy: She NEEDS to write another novel…am I right?

Maryse: P.S. EASILY 5 stars for Hausfrau. EASILY. Although not at all an easy read. But amazing nonetheless. so real, so raw, and so honest… it hurts.

Amy: I’m so thrilled to have both of you to share the Hausfrau love with. THRILLED!! Even though I know how you guys are feeling. :? I swear, when I read Hausfrau it felt like my heart imploded and my chest caved in. Simultaneously. All you have to do, Maryse, is look up my reactions from when I read it and you’ll see. ;)

R: I’m so happy you loved it!

Amy: I wish you two could see me…I’m totally covering my mouth and squealing and kicking my feet and I’m so freaking giddy. I should feel guilty that it’s at your expense, but j just loved it SO FREAKING MUCH and I love hat you two loved it as well!!!

Maryse: Amy… I am just SO SORRY I didn’t buddy read this one with you, nor did I actually read it when you promised me I NEEDED to. This was the one! Darnit!!!!! At least I read it… and I had both you AND R behind me. Thank goodness ’cause i needed it. I’m sorry Amy.

Amy: OMG my sweet friend…don’t be sorry. DON’T. You had to be ready and in the right mood to read it. That’s the only way we can give a book a fair shot.

…and then the comments just got better and better and funnier and funnier as bev and crew jumped in and started “guessing” why we were freaking out so badly. But I won’t post ‘em in case of potential *spoilers* and stuff. *snort* GAH that was one of our BEST conversations ever! And I SO needed it.

AND!!! WOW R!!! THIS. What you said ➔ ” I don’t think a person can be selfish when there isn’t any “self” left to lose.” I get that. Exactly.

It kept me hooked, reading, devouring, despairing… and left me distraught yet exhilarated, begging my book buddies to pay attention to me, to TALK to me, at 1 am!!! I was exhausted, but my world had been shaken up, and I needed you guys. You were there. Some of you had read it, and “knew” where I was inside my head. My heart.

Some had not read it, but helped me stabilize my book hangover, made me giggle like mad, and relieved me of that two-day tension, that pressure that had been building until that very last line. AND OMG what a line it was.

True… I’m not over it. I never will be. I’ve been in a book fog all day, but I got by with a little help from my friends. ;) Thanks guys!

So what’s it about?

An American woman that had so much to look forward to, at one time in her life, that met her future (Swedish) husband while he was in America. They fell in love (or at least, what she though was love at the time) and she moved to Switzerland with him. Amongst his family, in his world, not speaking a word of their language, but eventually taking courses so she could communicate (albeit, not as fluently as her husband would like).

And in the course of her life there (8 years?), she constantly felt discombobulated, over time, losing her confidence and independence.

Anna’s passivity had merit. It was useful. It made for relative peace at the house on Rosenweg.

Allowing Bruno to make decisions on her behalf absolved her of responsibility. She didn’t need to think. She followed along.

No friends.

Solitude was her anchor. A familiar misery, and anymore the safest, most sensible approach.

Not driving, not working, just being a mother to their children (not even being sure she ever wanted to have children) but loving them nonetheless.

“IF,” DOKTOR MESSERLI ASKED, “you are miserable, then why not leave?”

Anna spoke without reflection. “I have Swiss children. They belong to their father as much as to me. We are married. I’m not really miserable.” Then she added, “He wouldn’t accept a divorce.”

But she’s a deeply flawed human being (aren’t we all, in various ways?) and as she felt like she was losing her identity, and as she felt her husband was ignoring her, and even looking down on her, criticizing her, she reached out in ways, grasped desperately in ways that destroyed her self-esteem, even more.

This is a good thing I am doing, Anna said inside herself, though “good” was hardly the right word. Anna knew this. What she meant was expedient. What she meant was convenient. What she meant was wrong in nearly every way but justifiable as it makes me feel better, and for so very long I have felt so very, very bad. Most accurately it was a shuffled combination of all those meanings trussed into one unsayable something that gave Anna an illicit though undeniable hope.

But all things move toward an end.

This is definitely what you’re thinking, but not told in a tawdry way.

There is no delight in her affairs, even if at first, she thinks there is.

I love him. I love him. I love him.

Like people in pain love opiates.

From start to finish, every random thought, memory, and realization, from past to present, including the much-needed and enlightening sessions with her psychiatrist will feel somewhat arbitrary.

She was lonely and remote. Anna was lonely and remote everywhere she went.

“A LONELY WOMAN IS a dangerous woman.” Doktor Messerli spoke with grave sincerity. “A lonely woman is a bored woman. Bored women act on impulse.”

Yet it all makes sense, it all comes full circle, and it’s so focused… so clever, and so complete, in its journey.

A secret serves no purpose but to isolate, Doktor Messerli had said. At the time Anna disagreed. But the Doktor was right.

Alone, alone.

And so completely devastating.

Milissa: Amy I would like to kick you!!! Normally we love the same books but Hausfrau-Novel-made me want to punch the bi**h in the face. I put it at my top suck books ever!!

R: I’m having a Hausfrau bookhangover something fierce. Thanks for that Amy.

Leslie: I can’t read Hausfrau (not my cuppa) but…..kudos to these authors who take these self destructive characters that we should hate and make us understand (and sometimes even fall in love with) them!!  Hats off to awesome authors!!!

*snort* I’m seriously cackling out loud at Milissa’s reaction. And THAT’S OKAY. This one is NOT for everyone. But it’s just so amazingly well written, and such an emotional journey (downward spiral and all) that for those that are curious… READ IT.

Amy: The absolutely flawless writing and the devastating story made it one of my top 5 favorites EVER. And I highly doubt any other books will ever be able to knock it out of that spot.

Maryse: And I’m right there with you. This was one of THOSE. High intensity, meaningful, gritty and raw, and yet so eloquent in its delivery. Human flaws and all, and yet all she wanted was to belong and to be loved. To feel at home.

I was so sad for her. WITH her.

Some tears can’t be soothed, they can only be shed.

For those that are open to this kind of story, I adamantly recommend it. One of the most raw, emotionally disturbing, enlightening and most eloquently written tales of the loneliest, most self-destructive woman, just looking for love, that I have ever read.

At the sound of Bruno’s office door clicking into place, something in Anna slammed shut too. A closed door reminded her of everything about her life she hated. And she hated it twice as much as she had the day before. The brief vacation from heartbreak made the desolation that remained all the more acute.

A lonely woman, a desperate woman, a depressed woman, a self-deprecating woman, many would say the most selfish woman. But I feel like asking… what came first?

But not all will is free.

If you read it, you might find yourself asking the same thing.

In the short, sharp span of a single heartbeat, she knew that nothing she’d ever said or done, and nothing she would ever say or do again, would carry even half the tragedy of this.

Wow. Just… WOW.

5 STARS!!!!! Easily!

P.S. Thank you AMY!!!! :D !!!

P.P.S. For the fun of it… my notes:

Wow… What amazing, beautiful, heart wrenching writing

the writing is impeccable

THIS. SO THIS.

she’s so desperate for love, and attention and acknowledgment that she’s ruining herself over it

So scattered and yet so focused. I love it. Random timeline, random details, random memories but it all ties together… even when it doesn’t make sense, or seems so random, it’s something pertinent to who she is… what is happening to her. Who she’s becoming.

USE THIS. Desperation. Devastation. There’s nothing left…

USE THIS!!!!!

holy. sh*t.

(Tee hee! I didn’t actually censor myself in my notes). :P

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy October 26, 2016 at 12:51 AM

Maryse. Damn. That was perfect. I’m not even going to attempt to add anything to it. ;)

Except to WHOLE HEARTEDLY agree with this: “True… I’m not over it. I never will be.”

bev October 26, 2016 at 9:33 AM

Great review, Maryse.
In a Lit class years ago I read The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I wonder if you all would enjoy it?

Maryse October 26, 2016 at 11:12 AM

Yay bev… I’m going to look it up right now!

Maryse October 26, 2016 at 11:13 AM

*big squeeeeezy hug* to Amy and R for insisting I read this. It will definitely make my best of 2016 list (even though it came out in 2015). ;)

Susan October 26, 2016 at 7:58 PM

Well, frick, now I have to read it and I have been avoiding this one. reluctantly clicking this one but I will read it.

Maryse October 26, 2016 at 8:39 PM

Susan.

You must tell me what you think!!!!

marina October 27, 2016 at 12:07 PM

Wow, what a review!!! Sounds like quite the trip. I’d never even heard of it until now but will definitely read it and very soon. I can’t wait! Thanks for the reviews!

Trisha March 26, 2017 at 4:25 PM

Is there an hea?

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