How is it March already? I’m not complaining, but how quickly does time fly when you’re having fun? So, where have I been, what happened to my ‘monthly’ reviews I hear you ask? Well a whole lot has changed since I seen you last. Since my last review of ‘The Forgetting Time’, I’ve had a truly ‘Whirlwind, all systems go’ kinda time.
We’ve had Christmas, New Year, my Home City became the UK City of Culture, I became single, changed jobs (and sector!) bought a house, moved into a house and I am half way through project managing a renovation. Life seriously goes in the fast lane sometimes huh!
I can honestly say I am the happiest I have been in a very long time, and to quote Dahl, ‘good thoughts are shining out of my face like sunbeams’. Spring is just around the corner (hurrah!), so we can welcome longer daylight hours, more icecream and I have daffodils growing in my new long and green garden.
It hasn’t been quite the weather for sunbathing here in the UK just yet (hah!), but so far I have spent the time in my garden carefully perched on my back door step, looking out at my tree as the morning sun rises, book in one hand and a green tea in the other. And on occasion the neighbourhood cat comes to take a look at me. She still hasn’t decided if she wants to be friends yet.
The book I’ve read during the madness is ‘Hausfrau’ by Jill Alexander Essbaum. A debut novel from an Award-winning American Poet, which has generated a lot of fuss with critics, and so obviously had to be the next on my list. Cited as ‘Haunting’, ‘The Fifty Shades of Literary Fiction’ (The Times) and the book that has everyone talking, I had to see what all the attention was about.
‘Haus-frau, 1. Origin: German. Housewife, homemaker. 2. A married woman.’
The story focuses upon Anna, a Swiss housewife living in Switzerland; who ironically, hates the Swiss. An American ex-pat married to a fine man with 3 young children, the ‘perfect life’ from the outside, but far from it within. She is lonely, disconnected, out of love. She suffers from insomnia, she doesn’t speak a word of the lingo and feels isolated from her loved ones.
From what we can understand from Anna, she is in a deep hole of depression. We are invited into private appointments with her psychiatrist, ‘Frau Doktor Massereli’, where she asks life’s questions, and ponders their outcomes. ‘Is there a difference between shame and guilt?’ she asks. ‘Shame is a psychic extortion. Shame lies. Shame a woman and she will believe fundamentally that she is wrong, organically delinquent. The only confidence she will have is in her failures. You will never convince her otherwise.’ answers Doktor. Thought provoking.
Why does Anna ask such a question of her Doktor? Because Anna is not the clean cut loving wife we hope to be reading of. She is feeling shame and she is feeling guilty.
Anna joined a German language class, in the hope to understand her Husband, her family, neighbours and others much better. She hoped to gain friends and break out from the lonely life she is living. However she met a different kind of ‘friend’ in the form of Scottish Archie Sutherland. A stranger, she muses… ‘His cock’s been in your mouth, hes not really a stranger anymore’. Here is Anna’s truth laid bare. She is cheating on her husband, every week after her language class, before returning home to resume family life.
As we twist and turn through the book, we learn more about Anna. She wants to be loved and adored but feels no desire to reach out to others, to really feel love, to really have friends and to create lasting bonds with others. She is her own worst enemy, accepting sex from whichever source and no matter what the risk.
“Anna loved and didn’t love sex. Anna needed and didn’t need it. Her relationship with sex was a convoluted partnership that rose from both her passivity and an unassailable desire to be distracted. And wanted. She wanted to be wanted.”
The book takes you through her self destructive behaviour and lies, until suddenly, the worst possible thing happens to a Mother. She is distraught, but also terrified should her Husband ask why she wasn’t present when the event happened. She is truly wrapped up in a web of lies, secrets, despair and self hatred.
This novel is dark, raw and incredibly frustrating. In all honesty, it took me a month to read, purely because I despised Anna, verging on hatred. What a selfish, self indulgent, self centred bitch. She is her own worst enemy, indulging in self improvement for all the right reasons with all the wrong outcomes.She is deep into self sabotage who then expects you to feel sorry for her when it all goes awry.
She asks questions of her Doktor but refuses to answer questions herself that would help her improve her life. She feels very little for her family or anyone that shows anything other than sexual affection for her, she is a liar, a cheat and damn right miserable. This is not a feel good book. It is one that asks more questions than provides answers and is very mentally draining. ‘SNAP OUT OF IT!!’ you want to scream at her, shake her in fact. I read page after page in disgust. Some lines read like 50 Shades gone wrong, a cold and black and white view of adultery and joyless sexual activity.
I went through roughly 250+ pages hating Anna. Wanting to tell her to divorce her Husband if she was that unhappy, get a job, stand on her own two feet, stop indirectly hurting her family, her children. Become an independent woman, stop being such a drain and a misery.
This book is a novel of Anna’s secrets, its cold, twisted, depressing and nasty. This is a book of sheer peaks troughs and turns so I will not spoil it for you by explaining the storyline further, but this book is POWERFUL. I would not recommend reading this book if you are not in a good state mentally.
However, Essbaum is an absolute genius. I hated this book. HATED it. But not because it was written poorly, or because it had a dull story line. I HATED the main character, to the point of throwing my book across the bed after some pages became too much and I couldnt endulge in her self pity and woe any longer. It is difficult, frustrating, distracting, one that breeds absolute anxiety and anger in the reader. What kind of novel does that? What kind of writer would purposely make you hate their character?
A bloody good one that’s what.
In the end, I cried. I absolutely sobbed. I felt such empathy for Anna, shock, despair, disbelief. I wanted to help her, take her away from the darkness and help her back on her feet. A liar, an adulterer, a cheat who I had hated for a whole month, I suddenly wanted to care for her. And this is what made this my book of the year for 2016. The book I hated, struggled to read, threw across a room, slammed shut, groaned at in frustration, trash talked to fellow readers and thought I’d never finish. What a writer to absolutely flip my emotion and care for a character so deeply in the last few pages.
How? Because there’s a part of her in all of us.
“For if love is not infinite or eternal? Then I want nothing of it.”.
‘Can’t Put It Down’ Rating: 3/5 *
* I could put it down – I threw it down. Multiple times. But it is a must read.
Hardback, Jane Gill Essbaum, 2015. RRP £14.99
Please do leave your comments or get in touch with your own feedback on the book should you read it following this blog post. I’d love to hear what you felt!
Washed Down With….
Tetley’s Green Tea
All good UK Supermarkets.
Well suited to this book, bitter, raw. An energizing and fragrant Green Tea, clean and fresh in flavour. Perfect to start the day after a short bout of Yoga and to accompany a book as we soak in the fresh air.
Taste Rating: 4/5. Energising and pure.