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.