Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

Penguin sent me a complimentary copy, however all opinions are my own.

It’s not an easy thing, leaving home. But if you’re going to somewhere, rather than away from somewhere, well that can make all the difference. Such is the case with 82-year-old Etta, who leaves her husband Otto and their Saskatchewan farmhouse early one morning to see the ocean in Halifax. On foot. As Etta moves forward, the novel stitches the past with the present to create a narrative rich with passion, love, loss and the horrors of the Second World War. Despite her failing memory, Etta leaves no one behind.

etta and otto and

I was a bit skeptical of the premise — how could an 82-year-old woman walk 3,232 kilometres? — and how Etta left with so little and so casually, as if she were stepping out for a bag of milk. But a quick turn to her and Otto’s childhoods gave me something real to hang onto. I could suspend my doubt about Etta’s pilgrimage if I could learn how she came to make it. What fascinated me most was the main characters’ histories and how their lives become intertwined. Given the dream-like quality of Etta’s present-day journey, it’s astonishing that Hooper is able to make the relationship between Etta and her travel companion — a talking coyote named James — seem viable and necessary.

Hooper’s writing is poetic and precise and moves quickly like a river, carrying you along through the story almost effortlessly. I say “almost” because there is a bit near the end where it’s difficult to know who is speaking, but this is intentional and sorted within a few pages. I finished the book the day I started it, then immediately wanted to read it again.

All I could ask to improve it — and really, it needs no improvement — would be more. More about Etta’s sister Winnie, who goes to a convent to have her illegitimate baby; more about Owen, the boy so in love with Otto that he follows him to war; more about Byrony, the reporter who joins Etta to carry out her own journey; and more about Etta and Otto and Russell in the years between the war and the present. Which is an awful lot to ask of a story so brilliantly told, but I wanted the characters to stay and stay.

Have you read Etta and Otto and Russell and James? I’d love to hear what you think. What’s the last book you didn’t want to end?

5 thoughts on “Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

  1. Lovely review and I will keep in on my reading list… My latest – sorry to see it come to an end book – is The Summer of The Bear, by Bella Pollen….. a book that although seemed a little juvenile at first, opened up to a beautiful read involving the innocence and sometimes brattiness of children and the love of family – while still having a line of mystery.

  2. I am currently reading “Yes, Please” by Amy Poehler although I am procrastinating. I think it is because it’s a bit too real and bibliography like for my tastes. I love books that take us back to the times of the World Wars and the love stories that get pulled from them are genuine and beautiful. It has been a while since I wanted more, maybe this will go on the amazon list for me to buy?

    1. I think you’d love it, Aneta! One of my all-time faves (and there’s not one but *two* love stories that run throughout). I’ve got a couple of copies making the rounds — as soon as one’s back I’d be happy to send it your way!


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.