Reviews > Published on November 3rd, 2015

Bookshots: 'The Black Tongue' by Marko Hautala

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Black Tongue

Who wrote it:

If you're up for an adventure, try reading 'The Black Tongue' alone in a hotel room with one flickering light, like I did. I guarantee at least one nightmare.

Marko Hautala, Finnish thriller and horror writer, winner of the Tiiliskivi Prize.

Plot in a box:

As disturbing events and memories collide, residents of a town in northern Finland begin to question whether a local urban legend might have some basis in reality.

Invent a new title for this book:

Beneath the Soil

Read this if you liked:

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Meet the book's lead(s):

The jaded Samuel Autio and Maisa Riipinen, a religious studies graduate student who sometimes pees in church parking lots.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

Maybe Sandra Bullock for Maisa? And Michael Nyqvist for Samuel, to make a very odd pairing. I would love to see Helena Bonham Carter as Granny Hatchet. 

Setting: Would you want to live there?

Considering the circumstances, probably not.

What was your favorite sentence?

Sometimes she lies down so still that moss spreads across her shoulders and maggots squirm their way into her mouth, thinking, This ripe carcass here is a real treat.

The Verdict:

Who is Granny Hatchet? Hautala relays her legend with gleeful relish. She's a monstrous hag in possession of a master key made of animal bones that allows her into any home. She drinks from jars of black sludge and gnaws on the fermented hearts of her victims. No one ever jokes about Granny Hatchet. Her world is populated by strange basement cults, and sliding shapes in the night. The Black Tongue strikes an unsettling tone, even when little is happening. Set in a northern Finnish town on the sea, Hautala captures a unique atmosphere where ancient folktales impact even the Somali immigrants who have recently moved to the area.   

It's admittedly hard to resist the siren call of an author who's been dubbed the “Finnish Steven King.” Hautala employs some elements of a more traditional horror formula; there's the ambitious academic stumbling into more than she can handle while working on her dissertation, and a disillusioned man returning to his hometown after a family death. With several scenes playing out through the grainy camera film of a 1980s recorder, the jolting, disoriented quality is slightly reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, but with a fairy tale quality. Envision bits of The Ring, the Brothers Grimm, and Gillian Flynn rolled together, and that comes close to the impression left by The Black Tongue. It's a little strange, but it appears to work. 

The characters grew on me slowly, becoming more defined through the chapters. Especially charming was the point where Maisa receives a creepy photo of an eyeball on a plate surrounded by human teeth, and she immediately thinks it's an invitation from a college theater group. The photo comes along with a threatening letter signed, “With kind regards, The Ever-Devouring Night.” Rather than allow herself to be deterred by the disturbing mail, she's elated at any kind of proof of the cult to shove in the face of her extremely irritating academic advisor.

If you're up for an adventure, try reading The Black Tongue alone in a hotel room with one flickering light, like I did. I guarantee at least one nightmare.

About the author

Leah Dearborn is a Boston-based writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in international relations from UMass Boston. She started writing for LitReactor in 2013 while paying her way through journalism school and hopping between bookstore jobs (R.I.P. Borders). In the years since, she’s written articles about everything from colonial poisoning plots to city council plans for using owls as pest control. If it’s a little strange, she’s probably interested.

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