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The Sweetness of Life: A Kovacs and Horn…
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The Sweetness of Life: A Kovacs and Horn Investigation (original 2006; edition 2012)

by Paulus Hochgatterer, Jamie Bulloch (Translator)

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585204,058 (3.91)2
Member:PaulCranswick
Title:The Sweetness of Life: A Kovacs and Horn Investigation
Authors:Paulus Hochgatterer
Other authors:Jamie Bulloch (Translator)
Info:Quercus (2012), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library, Crime / Thrillers, To read
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Tags:Thriller Writers

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The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer (2006)

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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 |
A little girl is playing Ludo with her grandfather, having cocoa, when the door bell rings. It is Christmas time, the presents have been opened, but Ludo is a game she and her grandfather always play. Grandfather goes to the door, talks to someone there, gets his coat, and goes out.

Opposite, its windows lit up, is the house where the little girl and her family live. When her grandfather doesn't come back the little girl puts on her new green quilted jacket with the squirrel on it and goes out to find him. She follows footprints and finds her grandfather's body on the ramp that leads into the barn. There is no doubt it is his body, the clothes are right, but his head has been squashed flat. The little girl goes home and says nothing for the next few days.

The body is not discovered until the next morning. In part THE SWEETNESS OF LIFE is about the solving of the crime, but there are other themes that almost take over: an exploration of the damage done to children by unexpected trauma, by violence and cruelty, and pain inflicted by their parents and their elders.

I liked the way this novel is structured. Hochgatterer employs a number of narrators, but the reader is not always automatically sure who the narrator is until a few pages have passed. So you work hard looking for clues about the identity of the mind you are seeing events through. Is it Joseph Bauer, the Benedictine monk who teaches at the local school, conducts services, listen to music on his iPod, and runs to quell his personal demons? Or Raffael Horn, the psychoanalyst to whom the little girl is taken to see if he can unlock her mind? Or Kovacs the policeman, or Bjorn whose cruel and perverted brother Daniel has recently returned from reform school? And there are many more damaged people living in this seemingly quiet and normal Austrian village. ( )
  smik | Dec 31, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paulus Hochgattererprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bulloch, JamieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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.
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Der Kindergarten, die Volksschule. Fensterbilder, im Garten eine Schneeburg, die Inordnungwelt.
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Book description
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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