Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, Or Can Comparisons Spoil a Book?

Posted March 26, 2015 by LeahAdmin in Discussions, Reviews / 12 Comments

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Published by Random House on March 17, 2015
Pages: 336
Genres: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher

(I have done my best to avoid spoilers, but this post contains vague references to Hausfrau’s ending. Readers who don’t want to be spoiled might want to stop reading.)

Rarely has a day passed in the last few weeks that I haven’t seen at least one review of Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum in my feed reader. Narrated by an American expat living with her Swiss husband and three small children in a suburb of Zurich, this novel deals with isolation, depression, and infidelity. Anna Benz half-heartedly attends German language lessons, undergoes Jungian analysis, and embarks on a series of emotionless affairs as she struggles to find fulfillment. But how long can her lies build up around her before they come crashing down?

I really enjoyed reading this book. Anna is a dark, twisty, and fascinating character; the writing is stunning; and I loved how fluidly the narrative moves around in time. Essbaum does some truly amazing things with language, and the way Anna’s sessions with her analyst are woven into the story is wonderfully done.

But. (You knew there was going to be a but, right?) Somewhere along the line, I read a blurb comparing Hausfrau to a certain classic novel, and I immediately guessed how the book would end. When I finished reading, I may have yelled at my e-reader in frustration, not just with the ending, but with the way it is executed. And this isn’t to say the ending isn’t fitting. (It does fit, but I also kind of hate that it doesn’t break from tradition.) The final line is swift and subtle, and it is still haunting me a week later. But what really bothers me is that the comparison to another book effectively spoiled it for me.

Book comparisons can be a powerful recommendation tool. I’ve used them myself on this blog. (Ex: Three Books The Bell Jar Fans Will Love.) Telling readers, “Hey, if you liked this book, you’ll probably like this one too,” is a great way to introduce them to new books. But as Hausfrau proves, they can also spoil certain elements of a book for some readers. It seems like such a thin line to walk. When does a book comparison go from being a useful way to recommend a book to giving away too much information?

Have you ever been spoiled by a blurb comparing one book to another?

  • Good question, Leah. I agree that there are often too many comparisons going on, and I find that they do not usually even make sense, which can also be frustrating. I might miss out on a book I would have liked because I saw that it was compared to a book I didn’t like, or vice versa.
    Luckily for me, though, I tend to forget about whatever I read about a book while I’m actually reading it. So, in the case of Hausfrau, it didn’t really spoil the ending for me. 🙂

  • I’m so sorry the ending was ruined for you because of the blurb. That was really lame on the marketing side of things. 🙁

    • The thing is, I totally get why they used the blurb. It’s a fitting comparison… but the fact that some of the plot points hewed so closely to the classic is what made it dangerous!

  • Luckily for me, I never read that certain classic (I know, that’s kind of bad in and of itself, but it is what it is), but I still thought the ending was fairly obvious, even without the comparison. But, I agree about comparisons in general, although I do have a “You May Also Like” section at the bottom of my review posts. How to walk that line? And, I think we’ve all mentioned this, but the “next Gone Girl” labels are out of control. That gives away that there’s a huge twist or a crazy wife/woman involved. Plus, none of those books ever lives up to the original GG and I possibly would have liked them more had they been allowed to stand on their own.

    • I was thinking about the “next Gone Girl” thing while writing this post, but discussing that would have taken the discussion in a different direction, i.e. how blockbuster comparisons can set readers up for disappointment. You’re right, though, that kind of comparison can be a spoiler when it comes to giving away the fact that there will be a big twist.

  • It’s such a tough line to tread… I guess I would suggest that “other reads for fans of x book” lists go more off style and themes rather than similar, potentially super spoiler-y plot points. I agree that the Hausfrau blurb was very ill-chosen. :/

    • Agreed! I get why the blurb was used (in some ways, Hausfrau IS a “modern-day ____”), but I think recommendations based on style and themes are more useful and less risky.

      • Right, right! It’s certainly an apt comparison, but perhaps not exactly what people want to see on the dust jacket. 😉

  • I’m so glad I didn’t have to go through this, Leah, because I would not have wanted to read the book knowing what you knew.

    For me, there is a difference between making a recommendation- as we all tend to do- and “comparing” books. A recommendation is usually based on style or genre but comparing seems to get more into the nitty-gritty of the story and is then likely to give something away.

    Your review is great and did not cross either line- just makes it sound like a book worth reading! I really liked how Essbaum used Anna’s language lesson as direct corollaries to what was happening in her life.

    • Yes to your point about comparing and making recommendations based on theme! I think Rebecca on Book Riot recommended Hausfrau to readers who liked Dept. of Speculation and The Woman Upstairs, which deal with marriage troubles and “unlikeable” women, respectively. I think those are both great recommendations that give the reader an idea of the book’s themes and feel without giving away plot points.

  • I thought the last line was really fantastic, but I was very disappointed by how obvious the ending was – and I hadn’t even read the comparison. But the parallels were obvious and so the similar ending made this feel like a less well executed version of the classic. I also loved the hopping in time though. I thought the sessions and the classes were very thoughtful and well done.

  • Amanda

    That comparison made me so mad as well! Yes it’s accurate, and yes the ending was fitting- but I didn’t need it spelled out for me on goodreads!