MacLehose Press, £18.99
The Mattress House By Paulus Hochgatterer
Thursday 16 February 2012
Should psychological thrillers play by the rules? Surely the
best entries in the field stay within certain parameters?
There must be strongly developed central characters, with whom we identify, who take a journey into the darkest reaches of the human psyche. Yet Paulus Hochgatterer, who has a parallel career as a child therapist, seems to have carved out a literary career by breaking (or at least bending) these rules. He has proved that it can be profitable to throw received wisdom out of the window.
His previous novel, The Sweetness of Life, was the Austrian recipient of a European prize for literature, and marked out Hochgatterer as a writer prepared to employ unorthodox effects. With a cast of troubled individuals in a village in Austria, the author detonated a series of literary incendiary devices following the discovery by a traumatised girl of the mutilated body of her grandfather. Detective Superintendent Ludwig Kovacs joined sensitive psychiatrist Raphael Horn to open a particularly nasty can of worms. The book encountered criticism for its dyspeptic vision of Austrian village life, but events in the real world have proved that (if anything) Hochgatterer had underplayed the horrors beneath the placid bourgeois surface.
That novel employed a variety of perspectives and narrators, as does The Mattress House (translated by Jamie Bulloch). Here, the divorced Kovacs is saddled with the well-worn accoutrements of the literary copper (including the de rigueur difficulties of relating to a daughter). He contrasts satisfyingly with the psychiatrist Horn, who has his own familial problems. The Alpine retreat of Furth Am See sports a collection of damaged individuals. A young man dies after a fall from scaffolding. Then a rash of children all bearing signs of abuse comes to the attention of the police. Yet Kovacs can't break through the children's wall of silence.
There is a not-so-hidden agenda here: a provocative engagement with the rights and wrongs of the physical punishment of children. But Hochgatterer never forgets that his most urgent imperative is to deliver another forceful novel moving to a gruesome conclusion. His unsettling books read like those of no other contemporary author.
Order for £17.09 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate