At the beginning pages of Emma Hooper’s debut novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James we learned that Etta, an 82 year old woman and set off on a journey to the sea, leaving only a brief note and a bunch of recipe cards for her husband, Otto. What follows is not only a story of one woman’s pilgrimage across Canada from Saskatchewan to Halifax, but also a story of the past of Etta, Otto and their friend, Russell in addition to a story of the simple lives of people in rural Canada.
There were several things that I liked regarding this book, the first being the prose which was deceptively simple yet utterly beautiful. I love reading on the day to day lives of the people who were left behind during the war and those who assisted with the war on top of the indirect effects the war had on people and even schools back home. I also enjoyed the friendship between Otto and Russell especially when they were young and it was unfortunate that we do not witness greater amounts of interaction between the two in the present. Finally I also liked the employment of the “talking” coyote, James as it provides greater insight into Etta’s character and state of mind in addition to her well-being.
That being understood, there were numerous times throughout the book, particularly near the conclusion where I found it difficult to follow the story. To be more specific I found the timelines slightly confusing to the point that I needed to reread several sections just to figure out what had just happened. Afterwards, I was left wondering this writing style was intentionally done to illustrate the deteriorating mind. Still it you are willing to dig deep, you will find that Etta and Otto and Russell and James is a beautiful novel concerning love, loss and how the past has a way of never completely disappearing. Also for those who loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I think you will definitely appreciate Etta and Otto and Russell and James especially the moment where Etta’s simple journey suddenly gains a following due to the media’s interest. Overall Etta and Otto and Russell and James is a book that is worth picking up if you do not mind a story that is slower in pacing and is driven more by the characters and their actions.
If you like this book, you’ll love: Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu
Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.