Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house, you can never tell. -Joan Crawford
It has taken me a while to figure out what I want to say about this book. Hausfrau tells the story of an American woman named Anna living in Switzerland with her Swiss husband. They have 3 children and she is a housewife. She is lonely and depressed; she feels isolated, and neglected by her husband. A recipe for disaster.
As I was reading Hausfrau, I was captivated by the writing and style of the narrative. I like the way the story jumps around between past and present, German lessons and visits to the psychoanalyst. The psychoanalyst, in particular, offers us many things to mull over as we read the book. But, when I got to the end of the book, I felt disappointed that there wasn’t more to the story. I felt like I had read this story before, several times. Two books that quickly come to mind are Mme. Bovary and Anna Karenina.
But, maybe there is a reason why we are still eating up books like Mme. Bovary, Anna Karenina, and Hausfrau – we are still finding in them things that resonate with us. I think Hausfrau is a good example of how some women still feel dependent on men, and find it hard to break away.
So, Anna’s passivity had merit. It was useful. It made for relative peace at the house on Rosenweg. Allowing Bruno to make decisions on her behalf absolved her of responsibility. She didn’t need to think. She followed along. She rode a bus that someone else drove. And Bruno liked driving it. Order upon order. Rule upon rule. Where the wind blew, she went. This was Anna’s natural inclination… If Anna suspected there was more to her pathology, then that was a secret she kept very close.
Maybe by reading these books, we can ask ourselves what we can do to prevent finding ourselves in the same situation. In the case of Hausfrau, Anna finds herself in a country whose language she hasn’t yet mastered, married to a man who doesn’t pay enough attention to her. She has no family and few friends. She turns to unhealthy ways of coping with her loneliness. Her friend Mary turns to food, while Anna prefers infidelity. It’s also interesting to read about different people’s ways of coping – some are more disastrous than others.
Anna’s talks with the doctor were eye-opening, both because of the things that were said as well as the things that were unsaid. Anna’s character/personality/issues would make for a good discussion in a book club. Some would say she is unlikeable, but I mostly just felt sorry for her.
At the sound of Bruno’s door clicking into place, something in Anna slammed shut too. A closed door reminded her of everything about her life she hated. And she hated it twice as much as she had the day before. The brief vacation from heartbreak made the desolation that remained all the more acute.
Another character I think would be interesting to hash out is Mary, the friend Anna met at her German classes. Mary has just come to Switzerland from Canada, and for the most part appears to be content with her life. But, there are little things she does and says that hint at her own misgivings about the way her life has gone, or the way she feels about herself.
Despite the fact that I come across sounding hesitant about this book, I did enjoy it and would recommend it to others. Just don’t expect anything to happen that you don’t see coming, or any big secrets that you haven’t already guessed at, and you’ll be fine. There are too many good things about the book to give it a pass; the writing, the structure, the social commentary, the psychoanalysis sessions, the exploration of a difficult marriage.
It’s an otherworldly moment when the curtains behind which a lie has been hiding are pulled apart. When the slats on the blind are forced open and a flash of truth explodes into the room. You can feel the crazing of the air. Light shatters every lie’s glass.
I enjoy reading books about marriage, but there are so many more about bad or difficult marriages than good ones. I guess it must make for better reading, or, depressingly, more people are probably able to relate to the difficult ones. But, since we’re on the topic, who can recommend a good book featuring a happy marriage? One that I can think of that I have read recently is Love Letters of the Angel of Death by Jennifer Quist. Are there others out there? And, if you have read this book, what did you think?
Other reviews of this book you might like to check out:
Shannon at River City Reading suggests that if you like Hausfrau, you might also like watching The Affair.
Andi at Estella’s Revenge is calling it ‘meh’.
Amanda at Gun In Act One gives it 4.5 stars.
*Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!