What is it with this recent spate of books about hateful women doing terrible things and being just generally awful people? Ok, spate might be an exaggeration, but I feel like there’s a real trend in books lately about unsympathetic female protagonists; selfish women, living selfish lives and not reaching any sort of redemption. I think this ‘unforgivable women’ sub-genre is one of my least favourite types of book to read.
In Hausfrau, Anna is the awful person in question.
Don’t worry, knowing that she’s less than wonderful is no spoiler – the first line of the book sets this up pretty well: “Anna was a good wife, mostly”. Although, if you ask me, this is a mild assessment of Anna’s qualities as a wife – I didn’t see much evidence that Anna was a good wife even some of the time. But I guess that all depends on your definition of a good wife. Maybe my assessment of Anna says more about me than it does about her.
Anna is a married mother of three, living in a foreign country where she feels completely out of place and out of control. She doesn’t speak the language, although this, at least, she does something about by enrolling in German classes. She has no friends, at least no one she truly likes and can rely on, her husband is cold and aloof, but loves her in his way, her mother-in-law, while helpful with the children, wants almost nothing to do with her. Maybe all of these things, in some way, add up to somewhere in the vicinity of an excuse for her behaviour. Except, I don’t really believe that. Once again, I think review of this book might be more revealing about my own personal take on life than what the book is saying. So many times I just wanted to shake Anna and say ‘stop your whining and just sort your fucking rig out woman’. Clearly I missed my calling as a therapist…;)
I found it incredibly hard to sympathise with this person who hurt people with a reckless abandon – her husband, her children and pretty much anyone who came into contact with her. And what’s worse was that she was self-aware enough to see the hurt she was causing, she just didn’t have the courage/motivation/care-factor to do something about it. It was incredibly frustrating to read, and if this hadn’t been for book club I’m not sure I would have finished it.
Most of the time, I didn’t feel like her actions necessarily justified her situation, and I think that’s a real failure of the writing. Because a great writer should have been able to make even the most cold-hearted of readers (present and accounted for) feel at least something for Anna – by the end, all I had was indifference for her fate. And I have to believe that wasn’t what Essbaum was shooting for.
So, as you can probably tell, I wasn’t a big fan of Hausfrau – but it got some good press when it was released, so I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read it.
I’m giving this one 5 out of 10 adulterers.