The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer

sweetness of lifeThe Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer

Translated by Jamie Bulloch

MacLehose Press, December 2014

Originally published as Die Süsse des Lebens, 2004

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

Hochgatterer is a child psychiatrist and novelist, and this particular book features both a child psychiatrist lead character named Horn and a police officer named Kovacs. They investigate the gruesome murder of an old man whose horribly disfigured body is discovered by his five-year-old granddaughter. This is not a story that just follows the investigation and the psychiatric sessions with the mute granddaughter: we get a lot of background about the main characters, and during the course of the investigation, it strikes me just how odd most of the people in the small town where the murder took place are. It’s a small town in the Alps, and it feels quite isolated. Horn and his wife moved there from the city so she could pursue her musical career at a neighboring orchestra, and Kovacs learns more and more about people’s sad lives in the town.

Unlike books by Jonathan Kellerman, who also worked with children but as a psychologist, not psychiatrist, The Sweetness of Life doesn’t seem overly sensationalistic: the murder is gruesome, there are other violent and disturbed people in the town, but it doesn’t single out one violent perpetrator. It’s more ominous a story than that. Also, Hochgatterer spends quite a long time describing the therapy sessions with the young granddaughter, and for that I’m grateful. It was interesting to see how play therapy with mute, traumatized children may work.

This isn’t an action-packed novel, and it’s not just a moody piece either: it’s thoughtful, and, to be honest, a pretty bleak portrait of a town. I’m interested in reading more.

Other reviews appear in EuroCrime, Reactions to Reading, and The Crime Segments.

9 thoughts on “The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer

  1. Thanks for the fine review as ever, Rebecca. It sounds like a fascinating look at a group of people and at life in that part of the Alps. But it also sounds as though it’s the kind of book that’s best appreciated if one’s in the right place for a dark, bleak story.

  2. I’m not the most objective of reviewers when it comes to Austria, but I liked the low-key nature of this book. It captures perfectly the neurotic and claustrophobic nature of small-town Austria in the winter months.

    • Interesting take. As we head into winter, I can think of quite a few snowbound mysteries I’ve read in the past few years. The most memorable winter scenes for me are still in a couple books I read as a kid, though: The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder and My Antonia by Willa Cather. Both of them are about claustrophobia in sod houses on the prairie.

  3. I’ll probably avoid for now at least. I quite like the sound of it, but I’m not completely sold and I’m not hurting for books at the minute (or ever).

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