Review: The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer

Title: The Sweetness of Life

Author: Paulus Hochgatterer

Publisher: Quercus Publishing (2008)

ISBN: 978-1-84724-389-8

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

Other reviews of this book

Euro Crime

Mysteries in Paradise

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2 Responses to Review: The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer

  1. Maxine says:

    I had quite a similar reaction to this book as you. I felt that the ending, though moving in itself, lacked any connection to the rest of the book, and hence lacked impact. I think the author had too many threads going – if he had stuck to the psychologist and the detective, and cut out some of the patients at the hospital, etc, I think the book would have been more “unputdownable” as you aptly put it!
    By the way, have you joined our Friend Feed crime and mystery room? http://friendfeed.com/rooms/crime-and-mystery-fiction. If not, you are very welcome. Several mutual friends are there. I have set up your blog to automatically post into it.

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  2. Louise says:

    Interesting review. I think the plot sounds good but I like your honest review about how if you lost the book midways through, you wouldn’t necessarily want to pick up a new book. I feel like that with SO MANY books which are just so-so reading, but yet I still seem to read on and on 🙂 Anyway, great review and HAPPY NEW YEAR.

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