I carry each book I’ve ever read with me, just as I carry my dead–those things that aren’t really there, those things that shape everything I am.
A genre-bending work of nonfiction, Samantha Hunt’s The Unwritten Book explores ghosts, ghost stories, and haunting, in the broadest sense of each. What is it to be haunted, to be a ghost, to die, to live, to read? Books are ghosts; reading is communion with the dead. Alcohol is a way of communing, too, as well as a way of dying.
Each chapter gathers subjects that haunt: dead people, the forest, the towering library of all those books we’ll never have time to read or write. Hunt, like a mad crossword puzzler, looks for patterns and clues. Through literary criticism, history, family history, and memoir, inspired by W. G. Sebald, James Joyce, Ali Smith, Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, and many others, Hunt explores motherhood, hoarding, legacies of addiction, grief, how we insulate ourselves from the past, how we misinterpret the world. Nestled within her inquiry is a very special ghost book, an incomplete manuscript about people who can fly without wings, written by her father and found in his desk just days after he died. What secret messages might his work reveal? What wisdom might she distill from its unfinished pages?
Hunt conveys a vivid and grateful life, one that comes from living closer to the dead and shedding fear for wonder. The Unwritten Book revels in the randomness, connectivity, and magic of everyday existence. And at its heart is the immense weight of love.