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The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer

The Sweetness of Life (2006)

by Paulus Hochgatterer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Kovacs and Horn (1)

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
So it was okay. It wasn't as good as I expected but I continued reading it to the end. Not much else to say about it really. 3/5 ( )
  Nataliec7 | Oct 31, 2016 |
The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer is a highly recommended, atmospheric and almost melancholy psychological thriller.

“Who could do a thing like that?” and why it sounded so jolly when she said it.
“Someone who has a problem with the sweetness of life,” he said, astonishing himself with his own words, because it was unlike him to tolerate such fanciful turns of phrase.

Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch, this is author Hochgatterer's U.S. debut. Set in the Austrian town of Furth am See, The Sweetness of Life opens with a grandfather, Sebastian Wilfert, playing Ludo with his granddaughter, Katharina during the Christmas season. A knock at the door sends her grandfather outside and Katharina later discovers his headless corpse outside, in the snow. Katharina goes mute, tightly holding onto two Ludo pieces. The crime is investigated by Detective Ludwig Kovacs,while child psychiatrist Raffael Horn sees Katharina in hopes of getting her to talk.

Both are Kovacs and Horn are morose, introspective, middle aged men who tend toward self -contemplation and disillusionment, which lends the whole novel a melancholy, mournful feeling. While we follow both men we see who the suspects in a town that seems to be full of damaged people. The actual setting and time of year amps up the bleak, atmospheric tension.

The strength of Hochgatterer's novel is found in the elegant descriptions juxtaposed to the sometimes depressing and brutal insight into the human condition, which makes perfect sense since Hochgatterer is a Vienna child psychiatrist. There is no nail biting suspense here, but rather a tale with an overwhelmingly feeling of depression, akin to seasonal affective disorder, mixed with the fragile hold on sanity experienced by several people.

The pace is slow and thoughtful, but the mystery is solved in the end, while you hope even more for some relief for both Kovacs and Horn as they plod through their very challenging jobs where despair and gloom seem to be close companions.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of MacLehose Press for review purposes.

( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
A complete mess of characters, the most of which have nothing to do with the plot, they're just tossed in, like nasty ingredients tossed unthinkingly into a stew. The actual murder, murderer, and motive would have been more than interesting enough, but they are not given any time in comparison to things like someone going about slaughtering animals (which, of course, isn't resolved), and a monk who thinks Bob Dylan is Jesus. The cops in the story do little else except eat outside in freezing weather. Perhaps the whole thing got lost in translation, but I doubt that. ( )
  CaineBooks | May 2, 2015 |
Set in the Austrian Alps in winter, an old man is playing Ludo with his granddaughter when he leaves to answer the door. When he doesn’t return, she goes in search of him and finds his horrifically murdered body lying outside in the snow.

In this ironically titled thriller by author Paulus Hochgatterer, the murder and its solution takes a back seat to the psychological portrait of this small remote town. Seemingly a model of conservative respectability on the surface, underneath it is a seething mass of cruelty, abuse, racism, and madness. The story is told from the various viewpoints of several different characters including the police officer in charge of the investigation, the psychiatrist brought in to help the little girl who hasn’t talked since her grandfather’s death, a priest with an addiction to music and his ipod even during funerals, and a young boy enthralled with Star Wars and his older brother who has just returned from prison. On their way to the solution of the crime, they tell us about the town and its secrets, their relationships, and their often disturbing memories and actions.

All of these secrets, thoughts, and descriptions of the denizens of the town, while interesting, actually served to distract from the murder and investigation and, to some extent, took away the sense of immediacy that is usually found in thrillers. Don’t get me wrong. I liked this book a lot. The Sweetness of Life is more disturbing than suspenseful but it does ‘disturbing’ very well. This is a very well written story of the hidden dynamics that can arise in a small town and the secrets that lay fomenting beneath the surface. And if the character development is somewhat uneven, some, especially of the police office and the psychiatrist, are very well drawn. Particularly interesting albeit extremely disturbing is the portrait of the development of a psychopath – kind of psycho by proxy.

This is not the kind of book that the reader feels compelled to consume in one bite. It doesn’t follow the usual rules of psychological thrillers. At time, it seems to take long detours around the murder and investigation, characters appear, seem important, are explored, and then disappear from the story and, although the main mystery is solved in the end, other crimes and mysteries are left unsolved and unpunished. At times, I had to backtrack to understand what is happening and why. Even the solution seemed somewhat divorced from the body of the tale. If I was to compare this book to any other, I would say The Land of Dreams by Norwegian author Vidar Sundstol in the role place and personalities play in relation to mystery and murder. As such, this may not appeal to everyone but, for those who like something a bit different, The Sweetness of Living is well worth the read. ( )
  lostinalibrary | Sep 14, 2014 |
It’s winter in a small city in the Austrian Alps. a five year old girl is playing Ludo with her grandfather until he leaves the room. When he doesn’t return she wanders outside and finds his body but doesn’t, or can’t, say anything about it to her family. The man’s son-in-law re-discovers the gruesomely disfigured body the next morning and, after a time, it becomes evident the man was not killed accidentally.

This is one of those books that makes you realise how hard it is to define crime fiction. A crime certainly takes place here but it’s almost incidental to the intimate psychological portraits of various citizens of the town which, together, paint a vivid picture of the town and, eventually, lead us to whodunit. There is a police officer’s perspective and he’s even fairly typical of fictional police in that he is somewhat bitterly divorced and a little morose. But there’s nothing much else typical about this book. The other points of view include a psychiatrists’, a priest who always wants his iPod on and a young boy whose older brother has just come home from prison. The multiple chapters from each of these characters’ point of view slowly build up a picture of each person and their place in the wider community. The problem with this approach is that all points of view are not equally well developed. The chapters featuring the psychiatrist and the policeman are excellent and over the course of the book show a real depth to those two characters. The other perspectives however do not provide such clear pictures and I did find my attention wandering at a few points.

While I liked the interesting structure of the book overall I think it probably contributed to the lack of “unputdownability”. The best way I can describe this non-word it is that although I happily read to the end, if I had lost my copy while I was in the middle of reading the book I wouldn’t have felt the need to seek out another copy. Perhaps because I felt the crime was so incidental to the overall story I also felt that finding out who committed the crime was not particularly important. The author certainly didn’t seem to think it was. And without a central plot element tying things together I was left with the impression that the book could have been finished almost anywhere without loss of impact.

It was an entertaining read but not something that grabbed my attention from the opening page and kept me engaged until the end. ( )
  bsquaredinoz | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paulus Hochgattererprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bulloch, JamieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Da aber der Hauptgrund der Furcht bei Kindern der Schmerz ist, besteht das Mittel, Kinder gegen Furcht und Gefahr abzuhärten und zu wappnen, darin, sie an das Ertragen von Schmerzen zu gewöhnen. (John Locke)
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Das Kind schiebt den Zeigefinger langsam über den Rand der Tasse, bis die Fingerkuppe die gekräuselte Oberfläche berührt.
Der Kindergarten, die Volksschule. Fensterbilder, im Garten eine Schneeburg, die Inordnungwelt.
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It is Christmas in the Alpine town of Furth Am See and a six-year-old girl is playing ludo with her grandfather. The doorbell rings, and the old man gets up. The next time the girl sees her grandfather, he is lying by the barn, his skull broken, his face a mashed pulp against the white snow. From that time on, she does not speak a single word.

Detective Ludwig Kovacs sits in snowbound beer gardens by day and peers through a telescope at night. Year-end crimes are always a nuisance, he finds, not least because they disrupt his erotic schedule with Marlene, the owner of a secondhand shop. And although he does not mind an excuse to extract himself from Marlene's romantic New Year plans, this victim, he is quite sure, will keep him busy well into January.

Raffael Horn, the psychiatrist engaged to treat the silent child, reluctantly becomes involved in solving the murder along with Kovacs. Their parallel researches sweep through the town — a young mother who believes her newborn child is the devil, a Benedictine monk who uses his iPod to drown out the voices in his head, a suicidal pensioner who introduces Horn to the joys of beekeeping, a high-spending teenager who tortures cats. The psychological profile of this claustrophobic, winter-held town is not reassuring — but which inhabitant was the brutal night-time slayer of the suffering girl's grandfather?

This double investigation is an original conceit from a very gifted writer, whose narrative is as subtle as it is gripping.
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An old man has his skull broken on a winter's night. His seven-year-old granddaughter finds him and refuses to speak a single word afterwards. Raffael Horn, a psychologist engaged to treat the child, becomes reluctantly involved in solving the crime. Detective Superintendent Bruno Kovacs sits in snowbound beer gardens by day and peers through binoculars at night. Year-end crimes are always a bother, he finds, not least because they disrupt his erotic schedule with Marlene, the owner of a second-hand shop. And although he doesn't mind an excuse to extract himself from Marlene's romantic New Year plans, this victim, he is quite sure, will keep him busy well in to January.A psychopathic father beats his daughters, a jogging Benedictine monk hears voices that do not come from heaven, a retired postman contemplates suicide, and a young mother believes her new-born child is the devil...The psychological profile of this small town is far from reassuring - but which member of its population was the nocturnal visitor responsible for the brutal slaying?… (more)

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