Anna is an American who lives in Switzerland with her Swiss banker husband and her three beautiful children. She should be happy, but she is not. She lives a joyless existence and only gets pleasure from having meaningless affairs. After nine years living in Switzerland, she still hasn’t fit in. She has no friends, doesn’t speak the language, and has no life outside her home. She’s distant from her husband and children. When her therapist suggests Anna take German lessons, she starts an affair with one of her classmates on the first day. She just can’t stop herself from heading down an inevitable path of self-destruction.
I had an awful time with Anna right from the start. I wondered if I was going to be able to stop being frustrated with her long enough to get through the first few chapters. Somehow I did. Anna is a terrible character. She’s a liar, and cheat. Yet I didn’t hate her. She’s aware that what she is doing is wrong. She doesn’t even appear to enjoy her affairs. Anna acts as if what’s she’s doing is beyond her control, that what is happening is happening to her, not by her. This is one of the most frustrating parts of the book. I just wanted her to say no for once. Just say no!
The blurb I read for Hausfrau compared her to both Anna Karenina and Emma from Madame Bovary. I agree, but also don’t. There are similarities, but there are some major differences. Those characters inhabit a world where women have almost no choices. They are repressed by their societies. Anna’s repression is self-inflicted. She chooses not to engage with the world.
I related to Anna more than I cared to admit. It wasn’t so long ago that I was a hausfrau myself. It can be lonely and isolating. You can feel underappreciated and neglected at times. I also have difficulties making friends (Anna has no trouble making male friends though). However, I am- Anna is- responsible for my own happiness. I went back to work, joined a gym, got some hobbies. I didn’t go the route Anna did. She could have told her husband that she was unhappy. She could have told her therapist what was really going on. She could have learned the language when she first moved there. She could…she could…she could.
But then, and I said, “But then” a lot while reading this, she had to deal with cultural differences, her aloof husband and his disappointment in her inability to fit in. She had no family or close friends there. How would I have handled the situation? I also would have become depressed. I’m sure Anna was depressed, but how she manages her depression just makes everything worse. Some people have alcohol, some have food, Anna has sex.
I have conflicting feelings about Hausfrau. It was very well written. It gets right into Anna’s head and her motivations, even though those motivations for her behaviour are confusing. It made Anna, who has the personality of a rock, an interesting character. I wasn’t totally into the plot. I knew where it was going right from the beginning. It isn’t an uplifting book and the sexytimes are blah. I wasn’t totally blown away by it.
About the Audio: Mozhan Marno is the narrator. She’s excellent at creating the variety of accents in the book.
Thanks to Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.