Review: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

hausfrauTitle: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


Madame Bovary meets Fifty Shades of Grey.”*
Anna was a good wife, mostly. For readers of The Girl on the Train and The Woman Upstairs comes a striking debut novel of marriage, fidelity, sex, and morality, featuring a fascinating heroine who struggles to live a life with meaning—“a modern-day Anna Karenina tale.”**


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.


Hausfrau is a dark but intensely captivating debut novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum. It is an extremely insightful psychological study of an American ex-pat living in Switzerland with her Swiss husband and their three children. This incredible work of fiction is very contemplative as Anna Benz tries to understand the reasons for her dissatisfaction with what should be a happy life as a wife and mother.

Anna is in her late thirties, bored with and disconnected from her life. She is a very passive woman who cannot quite understand how she ended up a hausfrau (housewife) in a foreign country. She is in psychotherapy, but due to her lack of honesty with her therapist, she is nowhere close to getting the root of her unhappiness. Through a series of passionate but (mostly) unemotional affairs, she temporarily escapes her sadness but she is also deeply shamed by her self-perceived lack of morals.  Anna is quite introspective throughout the novel, but her lack of self-awareness and self-control take her down an increasingly risky path.

In all honesty, Anna is not a particularly likable or sympathetic character. It is incredibly frustrating watching her sit on the sidelines of her life while at the same time making horrible decisions that have the potential to blow up in her face. Her flashes of clarity are fleeting and in fact, she uses her passivity as an excuse not to accept any type responsibility for either the good or bad things in her life. While there are times when it is easy to feel compassion for Anna, this is quickly lost as she lets circumstances spiral out of her control due to her refusal to do something, anything, to help herself.

A more complete picture of Anna forms as readers follow her through her interactions with her family, her psychotherapy appointments and her German classes. Also particularly useful are flashbacks to a pivotal relationship that occurred a few years earlier. The novel occasionally feels a little disjointed as the story flashes back and forth between the past and present, but these shifts are less confusing over time.

Hausfrau is a fascinating character study with an unusual but very compelling storyline. Overall, it is a thought-provoking debut novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum that is quite riveting.

1 Comment

Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Hausfrau, Jill Alexander Essbaum, Random House, Rated B, Review

One Response to Review: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

  1. Timitra

    Thanks for the review Kathy