When Alex, a handsome Munich archi-tect, tries to tend his neglected vegetable patch, he finds it rotting. Attempts to remedy the situation are futile – the ground is frozen. This, it becomes clear, is a metaphor for Alex’s marriage to Sonia, a beautiful and successful fellow architect. The cause of the impenetrable frost in their marriage is Alex’s compulsion to sacrifice his life for snatched moments of almost sadistic satisfaction with a woman he finds plain and dull. In his forensically analytical new novel, Peter Stamm, a prize-winning Swiss writer, anatomises a marriage and the irrational urges that drive people to sabotage their lives.
Alex introduces himself to Ivona as part of a bet when he is celebrating the end of his exams with friends. They notice her gazing at Alex and pretend to be interested in the stolid, hideously dressed Polish immigrant and her plodding monosyllabic replies to their questions. But despite merciless