As a child everything scared me. If the light switch was on the far side of the room, I was running full speed to bed once I switched it off.
Maybe that's why now, I can't get enough of scary stories. I'm just catching up on everything I missed as a child. So when Samantha Hunt (The Seas, The Invention of Everything Else) claims in her new novel Mr. Splitfoot that “All stories are ghost stories", something inside me just clicks.
Two stories run through Mr. Splitfoot. The first is of Ruth and Nat, two orphans in a cult like orphanage in the 1990s. When Ruth's older sister leaves the orphanage at 18, Ruth decides a young boy named Nat will be her new “sister”. As they grow up, they attempt to escape the orphanage using Nat's talent of speaking to the dead.
The second story follows Cora, Ruth's niece, who is in her 20s. Cora works a crappy job in a small town, and hopes the father of her unborn child will one day leave his wife. When a mute Ruth shows up at her door, beckoning her to follow, Cora faces a choice. Of course, she chooses to follow and they begin a strange gothic road trip.
I was destined to love this book. Mr. Splitfoot checks most of my boxes.
A strangeness palpable throughout the entirety of the book? Check.
There are lingering questions of what is happening. Why does Ruth need Cora to follow? Where are they going? Why can't Ruth talk? The two stories get told chapter for chapter and eventually bend towards each other. Places from Ruth's past start to appear in Cora's present. It all becomes intertwined.
I love the idea that Mr. Splitfoot introduces - that all stories are ghost stories. While reading I just went, “huh, wow." This realisation came early in the novel. The idea of conjuring up characters and a story, like you would do at a seance intrigues me.
So when “actual” ghosts were sparse through the rest of the novel I didn't mind. I started to read EVERYTHING as a ghost. All through the novel Cora is haunted by the people and things she has given up to go on this quest with Ruth.
So when ghosts appear later in the novel I couldn't help but question, "are they real too?" Again, the more questions raised, the more interesting it gets.
When I finished the book, I closed the cover and thought “man that was pretty good.” It wasn't until a couple of days later that I realised it. There is one of the best pieces of foreshadowing near the beginning of the book that I have ever read. I had completely forgotten about it until then. That's when the novel when from “pretty good” to “holy crap, that's great”.
So no, Mr. Splitfoot didn't have me rushing out to buy a night light. Instead it left me conjouring up my own ghosts as I lay in bed for nights after I read it. To me that's even better.