Review: Salo by Turkka Hautala

GUMMERUS, 2012/2009

Disclaimer: This book has, unfortunately, not been translated into English. Thus all the excerpts here have been translated by yours truly.

Award-winning debut novel that sets to tackle difficult subjects. The novel narrates the lives of eleven residents in a small Finnish town. A man kisses his wife for the first time in years and an accident ensues. A senior manager of the factory battles with how to tell his employees that the factory will be moving to India. And the infamous hat lady still walks the streets although everyone thought she had drowned in the river. Hautala’s stories are filled with Finnish melancholy, but bubbling under the surface is the inescapable comedy of everyday life.

Salo is a novel that depicts the life of a small town in South Western Finland. It could be that Salo is the story of a fictional town that greatly resembles a real-life town – or it could be any town anywhere in Finland. Aside from the title, the name of this town is never mentioned – it is “my town” or “this town” only. Thus you could change the title and it would be the story of that city. Salo consists of 11 chapters, all narrated by a different person. On the surface, these characters have nothing in common – they only pass each other in the street. We have a senior manager of the big multinational company who is so lonely that he talks about his life to an imaginary chess partner Kevin. We have a middle-aged woman who keeps the night-time kiosk in the town and meets all the night time walkers of the town. We have a pizza driver who has to switch his fluent Finnish into a broken dialect to keep up the appearance of exoticism. And the crazy hat lady that everyone thought had drowned in the river.

Salo is basically plotless. It is voyage to the inner lives of silent and withdrawn homes of the nation, with a healthy hint of comic everyday life. Hautala writes with a clear and accurate tone, merging regional dialects and spoken language to give every character their own voice. It took a while to get into the book and to understand were it was going, but after that it was very enjoyable. It’s definitely thought-provoking and even slightly depressing. The novel features so many lifelike characters, that I feel are walking on the streets of every town – only we don’t know them. Salo is not the first of its kind, but it is nevertheless well-crafted and well-written.

Salo is Hautala’s debut novel so I really look forward to reading more of his work. I bought this book last year in the Helsinki Book Fair, but for some reason it has been standing on my shelf unread. However, now I can happily say I’ve read it! As said in one of the blurbs in the back: “Hautala’s Salo is today’s Finland.”


Does the moment really matter when there are certain words that will hurt, but that must be said?


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