A child goes missing from kindergarten, when he returns, he has been beaten. Other similar cases soon start to appear, the children have all been beaten around the head and shoulders and speak of a “black owl”. The police have no leads and they turn to psychiatrist Raffael Horn for help.
Whilst The Mattress House is in the same series as The Sweetness of Life, there is no sense of ongoing plot so can be read by itself. My complaint for the previous book was that it was all a bit depressing. The town of Furth am See still comes across as a thoroughly miserable place to live, with so many serious psychiatric cases that Raffael deals with on a day to day basis. He doesn’t seem to have any patients that are merely depressed or anxious. The inclusion of so many of his patients is also a little confusing and doesn’t add to the plot or connect to the overall message.
What it does do, is address the subject of physical punishment of children. Many of the characters reflect on whether they have beaten their children. As a translated novel, perhaps an understanding of Austrian current affairs helps place the thoughts of Hochgatterer. I personally couldn’t tell if the things they were discussing were more normal or frowned upon so it didn’t really work for me as a thought-provoking piece of writing.
I have put my finger on what puts me off this series, it all feels far too clinical, like it’s all part of Horn’s assessment. It comes across a little emotionless because of this. I was touched by the scenes with Horn’s son and the cat. Even I could tell there was something seriously wrong with the poor animal but Horn was so dismissive and uncaring towards his son. He’s not a character I can relate to at all.
There’s a good crime story underneath it all though. The narrative is split between third person and an unknown first person, similar to The Sweetness of Life. You think you have a pretty good idea of what’s going on at one point yet you can’t always be so sure. If you were a fan of the previous novel, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. I just don’t think Hochgatterer is for me.
Originally written in German by Paulus Hochgatterer, The Mattress House has been translated into English by Jamie Bulloch for MacLehose Press and is currently available in hardback and ebook formats. Thanks go to Quercus for providing me with a copy for review.
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