First things first – a big shout out to the person who designed the cover of Hausfrau – it is so gorgeous I wanted to buy it before knowing anything about the actual content. And I’m not the only one! Three strangers asked me what I was reading because they were so drawn to how pretty this thing is, so I guess we do sometimes judge books by their covers … which is very apt because this novel is all about the unhappy things that might be covered up by a beautiful surface.
Hausfrau is definitely one of my favorite books of 2015; the writing is immediate, engaging and full of dark humor. The story is about Anna Benz, an affluent housewife and mother of three, married to a handsome banker and living what appears to be a picture perfect life in Switzerland. As we all know, appearances can be deceiving and Anna is actually very isolated within her shiny, happy life. Things start to unravel as she embarks on a spectacular streak of self-destructive behavior, diving headlong into bad decisions and a series of ill-advised affairs.
This is such a realistic and interesting portrait of an utterly alienated person careening towards (probable) disaster – with really lucid and interesting musings on choice, predestination and consequences along the way – I had a hard time putting it down.
Plus, bonus points for all the frank sex scenes! There is so much cringe-worthy writing about sex out there it is a relief to have an author who can handle it as well as Essbaum does. I should probably also mention that there are some pretty clear parallels to classic novels Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary and this is a great contemporary addition to that particular canon, so if you’re a fan of those (and even if you’re not) you should definitely pick up a copy of this book – do it before the paperback comes out and they change the cover…