Anna Benz is an American ex-pat living with her Swiss husband and three children in Zürich. She doesn’t work outside the home so she has plenty of time to explore the city, enjoy her Switzer Deutsch class, and spend time with her family in the evenings when they are home from work and school. By every standard, the housewife should be happy.
But she is dreadfully unhappy and terrifically bored, and instead of overeating or overspending she feeds her boredom through one thing: extramarital affairs, and as a result, compulsive lying.
Now, from what I’ve just told you, this sounds like a dime store romance novel or some frilly Chick-Lit book with equal parts crying fits and comical escapades. Hausfrau is neither. In between Anna’s retelling of her life in Switzerland we get snippets of her therapy sessions where her psychiatrist prods her patient to dig deeper, to really evaluate why she falls prey to reckless behavior. We see inside the meaningless affairs. We watch as she and her husband, Bruno, exist in the same house but have no connection. We watch her suffer through motherhood, unable to feel any real joy about their existence.
Anyone can read this book and know without a doubt that Anna is depressed. Why this woman wasn’t put on seratonin-reuptake meds right away is beyond me. I supposed that wouldn’t have made for a very long book. She would’ve snapped out of it, made an effort, and moved on.
Though the story is well-written and potentially relatable for some, I didn’t enjoy the book the way I hoped to, and after thinking about it for a couple of days, I realized that it’s because none of the characters are likable. Not one. Not one single character did I like enough to root for. I didn’t care that Anna was being reckless because I didn’t feel an allegiance to Bruno. I didn’t care that Bruno was being cheated on because Anna wasn’t a fabulous wife to begin with. He can do better. As for the kids, in the few pages they show up, I just felt sorry for them.
The redeeming qualities of the novel have to do with Anna’s efforts to learn proper German and her insightful visits to Doktor Messerli’s office. The book is set up by month instead of chapters so we go on the journey with Anna as she hones her language skills, discerns her own ability to make better choices, and figures out how to mop up the mess she makes.