Title: The Sweetness of Life
Author: Paulus Hochgatterer
Publisher: Quercus Publishing (2008)
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.
My rating 3.5/5
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