From the first words we feel Anna’s angst, frustration, longing and a host of other emotions. Any reader who hasn’t at some point experienced some of those emotions has led a charmed life indeed. The story is set in modern day Switzerland where Anna Benz is the American wife of a Swiss banker and mother of three young children. They live in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zurich. Anna is beautiful, the children are beautiful, and the husband, Bruno, is handsome. So what’s wrong with this picture? Human frailty, that’s what.
Anna — remember Anna Karenina? — is adrift, depressed and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings. She tries new things — German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs with an ease that surprises even her. Her deceptions and lies grow more intense as she navigates between lust and love, guilt and shame, excuses and reasons. She has crossed a moral threshold and can’t find her way back. A Carl Jung quote on the book’s opening page is telling: “A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has not overcome them.”
Hausfrau is well written in crisp, engrossing language. Essbaum easily and beautifully leads readers along the path of Anna’s pain and despair. The story is told with unflinching honesty, showing how we can lose ourselves and sometimes make disastrous choices.
Essbaum is the author of several collections of poetry. Maybe that’s one reason the book reads so easily; it flows and although it’s descriptive, there isn’t a lot of fluff.