Monday, April 20, 2015

Elizabeth Haynes

Elizabeth Haynes is a former police intelligence analyst, a civilian role that involves determining patterns in offending and criminal behavior. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Into the Darkest Corner, Dark Tide, Human Remains, and Under a Silent Moon, the first installment of the Briarstone crime series.

Her latest book is Behind Closed Doors, the second novel in the Briarstone series.

Recently I asked Haynes about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have just finished reading Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, a novel in which the protagonist is an American called Anna who is living in Zurich, Switzerland with her Swiss husband and children. In part, the story is an exploration of how it can feel to be an ex-pat – belonging to the community by marriage and residence and yet still remaining detached from it.

Anna’s detachment becomes more obvious as the reader progresses through the book. She seems happy enough and yet her behaviour – indulging in increasingly risky and apparently unfulfilling sexual liaisons – demonstrates otherwise. The narrative shows Anna’s disconnected life through snippets of scenes from her past, as well as brief interludes of her sessions with Jungian psychoanalyst Frau Doktor Messerli. It becomes apparent that Anna’s flighty affairs are as much to do with her retaining her free spirit as they are about her need to remain in control.

It’s this seeming paradox that kept me intrigued by Anna and sympathetic to her. I know from reviews of this book that some readers found it hard to connect with Anna, thought her unlikeable because of her apparently casual betrayal of her distant and yet not unkind husband, Bruno, and because she happily leaves her young children in the care of her mother-in-law while she gads about on the Zurich public transport system.

What struck me most deeply, however, possibly because of the detachment and how well it was shown through Anna’s behaviour, was that she was deeply, desperately unhappy.

I felt complete empathy with her because of this – as if she were a real, breathing person and not a character in the book. As a result, when Anna’s infidelities are brought to light in the most hideous of ways, the nightmarish destruction of the stable household that has facilitated Anna’s lifestyle is really quite traumatic.

I found the last twenty pages or so of Hausfrau both impossible to put down and very difficult to read. Without giving anything away, I wished and still wish for a different ending. It’s interesting to consider in a very general sense what is to be done with a character who transgresses; there should be opportunities for redemption as well as punishment, but finding the right ending for such a character is an undeniably difficult thing.

Even several days later I find myself thinking of Anna and her family, working my way through her story in my head and wondering how I would have told it. For a writer, Hausfrau is a masterclass in showing a character fragmenting through a developing crisis. For a reader, it’s a beautifully written, deeply unsettling and thrilling narrative exploring the nature of belonging – and I can highly recommend it.
Visit the official Elizabeth Haynes website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Elizabeth Haynes & Bea.

The Page 69 Test: Under a Silent Moon.

The Page 69 Test: Behind Closed Doors.

--Marshal Zeringue