image-2015-03-15Anna 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.

Jill Alexander Essbaum’s first novel has a pretty cover, its title embroidered in crimson silk on a background of delicate pewter flowers. Look closer, though, and among the twirling stems you’ll find the outline of a broken glass, petals giving way to shards, a jagged edge where there should be a dusty stamen. Hausfrau: suddenly, the word sounds more than usually weighted, a 21st-century piece of casual sarcasm thickening into something sharp and venomous.

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Essbaum is an acclaimed poet and at moments her prose takes on a lyrical concentration. Scottish Archie speaks “a queue of vowels rammed into one another like asmithy’s bellows pressed hotly closed”.

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I still recommend the novel, though. Essbaum’s poetic control of language is fantastic, and it makes Hausfrau an edifying read. The sex scenes are really, really good. Many of the novel’s sentiments about friendship, unrequited love, will, and action versus inaction ring true in a perfect-sine-wave sort of way. Just steel yourself for the end.

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Bottom line is that Anna’s psychological and sexual unraveling, her bad decisions and choices, together all reveal a deeply unhappy person who was gutsy enough to do something about it ever if it didn’t turn out for the best. In the end that’s what you should take home from “Hausfrau” – it is better to try and fail than to suffer. A raw and soulful psychological drama.

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You will either love it or hate it–but I guarantee you will spend time thinking about it: Anna’s choices, her mental state, if things really were as tragic as they seemed, and the chilling way the book ended. The last few sentences will be etched in my mind for a while.

Read the full review on Gimme That Book

Have you read this book? Would you recommend it to anyone or do you strongly believe that no one should buy Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum? Let us know in the comments and help other readers to pick a book that really suits them!