Originally published in Germany in 2006 as Die Süße des Lebens.
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.
You've probably gathered by now that I really enjoyed THE SWEETNESS OF LIFE.
My rating: 4.6
Euro Crime: Maxine Clarke
Goethe Institut USA
- Paulus Hochgatterer was born in 1961 in Amstetten, Lower Austria. Following studies in medicine and psychology, he lives today as a writer and child psychoanalyst in Vienna, directing as well the Institute for Educational Assistance in Vienna-Floridsdorf. His literary works include the novel Über Raben (2002) and the novella Eine Kurze Geschichte zum Fliegenfischen (2003). Hochgatterer’s literary awards include the Elias Canetti Stipendium (2001). He lives with his family in Lichtenau, Austria.
Paulus Hochgatterer is an established author with more than one book to his credit, although THE SWEETNESS OF LIFE is the only one currently available in English.