Title: Etta and Otto and Russell and James
Author: Emma Hooper
Release Date: January 13
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton Canada
Source: Penguin Canada on Goodreads First Reads (A copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.)
Check this book out on Goodreads.
Eighty-two-year-old Etta has never seen the ocean. So early one morning she takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 3,232 kilometers from Saskatchewan to Halifax.
Her husband Otto wakes to a note left on the kitchen table. I will try to remember to come back, Etta writes. Otto has seen the ocean, having crossed the Atlantic years ago to fight in a far-away war, so he understands. But with Etta gone, the memories come crowding in. The only way to keep them at bay is to keep his hands busy.
Russell, raised as a brother to Otto, has loved Etta from afar for sixty years. He insists on finding Etta, wherever she’s gone. Leaving his farm will be the first act of defiance in his whole life.
As Etta walks toward the ocean – accompanied by a coyote named James – memory, illusion, and reality blur. Like the gentle undulation of waves, Etta and Otto and Russell and James moves from a past filled with of hunger, war, passion, and hope to a present of quiet industry and peaceful communion; from trying to remember to trying to forget.
A beautiful novel that reminds us that it’s never too late to see the things you’ve longed to see, or to say the things you’ve longed to say. (Source: Goodreads)
Etta has never seen the ocean so she leaves in the morning from Saskatchewan and starts walking to Halifax. She leaves behind her husband Otto who stays behind and waits for her return while making papier mache gifts and taking care of a guinea pig. She also leaves behind her husband’s best friend, Russell, who follows her across the country to bring her home. She meets many people on her walk, but the one who joins her is James, a coyote. This journey across the country tells the story of 3 people through time and through what’s left unsaid.
I was a little unsure about this one to begin with. The story is a little unusual, I didn’t really know how Hooper was going to pull it off. But she did. She really, really did. I think the specifics of the plot really fall away compared to the emotion. The emotional journey of this book s really the most important thing. Sure it’s interesting that Etta talks to a coyote, but the holding point of this story is the depth of the emotions and the characters emotional development. It’s amazing to read, and so well written it was a breeze, rather than a chore, to read.
I loved Etta, Otto, Russell, and James. They’re so well written you really come to know them and care about them. One of the most amazing things is that in such a short book Hooper is able to fully capture the lives of these individuals, without any drawing out of events. Hooper captures moments and the essence of these moments in the individual lives. I loved the characters and I loved sussing out the details of their lives from everything left unsaid. I think James, the apparently talking coyote, was also hugely interesting. Of course it’s weird that he talks, but it just fits Etta so well that she should find a talking coyote. I liked that, like me, he loved Etta so wholly he wanted to protect her and follow her across the country. It’s just fantastic.
Now, back to those things left unsaid. The plot leaves out the specifics in many situations. The basic plot outline is there, and the specific emotions are there, but the specific things that happen are often left unsaid. Etta has at least two miscarriages, but it’s never put in such terms. You have to infer a lot of these highly emotional moments. This might turn people off of the book because while it’s a breeze to read, it is a little confusing and requires some pretty active reading. I loved that you had to read into the book and actively read the book. It was great, it required effort but it was rewarding. The emotional impact of the book was really much stronger.
I enjoyed Hooper’s writing style. I found it easy to read and really emotional. I think there were some things that kind of confused me initially. Hooper doesn’t use quotation marks to mark speech. She also breaks off the chapter into portions. The action moves from Etta to Otto to Russell to James to past Russell to past Emma to Emma to past Otto, this sort of action. It could be a few words to several pages. This was confusing but you get into the groove of it eventually.
I highly recommend this book. I think it’s a really excellent read, but don’t go into it expecting something light. It’s definitely something you have to invest time into reading. It’s worth it though, beautifully written and very interesting.
Have you read Etta and Otto and Russell and James? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
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