Monday, February 9, 2015

"Etta and Otto and Russell and James" by Emma Hooper

Who Should Read This: CanLit fans.

Eighty-two-year-old Etta has spent her whole life in Saskatchewan and has never seen the sea.  And one day, she decides she is going to change this.  She leaves a note behind her for her husband Otto that simply says “I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. I will try to remember to come back.”

Back at home, Otto is waiting patiently for Etta to return.  He knows that this is what she wants, so he does not plan on going after her.  But their friend and neighbour Russell cannot sit idly by.  He’s loved Etta for more than fifty years and he thinks someone should go after her.

But Etta isn’t alone on her 2,000 mile journey.  Shortly into the trip she is joined by a coyote named James who keeps her company and keeps her safe.  And when she ends up in the news, it isn’t long before everyone knows who she is when she arrives in their town.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper is a debut novel that spans decades and provinces as it takes readers on a journey right along with its main character.

I’m on the fence about this book.  I was really looking forward to it as it’s one of the talked about books on the Canadian literature scene for 2015.  The book jumps back and forth between the present and the past and I think this is where it really lost me because I absolutely loved reading about the past but didn’t care so much about the present.  

For me it was almost as though the book needed to pick one time to stay in.  If the book was about the characters during the period of WW2, this would have been a fantastic book for me.  If the book had stayed in the present and focused more on Etta’s walk and what she encountered throughout the country (because it’s a very diverse country), then this plot line would have worked.

With the story being about a woman walking across the country, this book is obviously going to draw comparisons to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.  And I think that this is not a good thing for the book. This book is less about the walking journey and if that is what you focus on, it doesn't really compare to Harold Fry.  The focus in this book needs to be about the relationships and about the characters. 

That being said, I think that story that takes place in the past is so strong.  I found it so fascinating to learn about life in the Prairies during wartime.  I've never been to this part of the country (or this time period) and yet I felt like I was right there with the characters.  The writing here is absolutely beautiful.  This certainly made up for the fact that I didn't really connect to the present day stories and kept my interest throughout.

I think that readers will be split on how they feel about this book.  I can see why there has been so much early talk about the book and I would totally understand why people love this book, even if it wasn't as big of a hit for me.

2 comments:

  1. I've heard that it's comparable to Harold Fry too - that being said, I'm still itching to read this one. I've had it on my shelves for a few months (advanced reading copy) and I STILL haven't picked up. I need to get it together.

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  2. In my own head, I compared the book unfavorably to HAROLD FRY, which was a book I loved. Unlike you, I liked both timelines well enough. I simply could never quite suspend my disbelief that anybody would let a woman with Alzheimer's just start walking across the country. Because of that, I had trouble with the actual plot, but I liked Etta's walking scenes with James. And I think Emma Hooper gives us a really lovely evocation of an Alzheimer's mind when Etta loses her lucidity.

    BUt overall, the book didn't work for me as much as it did for other people.

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