This was a ‘sort of’ book for me. I ‘sort of’ enjoyed it but… I was ‘sort of’ irritated with it too. The story premise for Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper grabbed me straightaway, and the excellent first paragraph.
The letter began, in blue ink.
I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry…”
Etta and Otto are in their eighties. The setting is Canada. Etta sets out one day to walk towards the water, which means either east to the Atlantic or west to the Pacific. She goes east. Otto stays at home, working his way through Etta’s index cards, trying hard to make cinnamon buns like hers. Gradually we learn their back stories: Otto’s childhood on the farm then as a soldier in France during the Second World War; of Etta’s teaching days and then a munitions worker. The Russell in the title is their childhood neighbour and friend. The James of the title is a coyote.
I was unclear why Etta was walking, unclear why Otto seemed philosophical and Russell concerned by her adventure. The relationships are enigmatic, the memories are fluid, which I found confusing. And what precisely happened at the end, I re-read and still do not understand. Enigmatic again, perhaps too much smoke and mirrors. Partly, also I think the problem was insufficient editing combined with the layout of the text [in the Kindle edition]. The viewpoint shifts from paragraph to paragraph, something I hate as it means a minute mental re-adjustment each time which interrupts the flow of the story. Also there is no punctuation to show dialogue, another pet hate of mine, and it is often difficult to know who is talking when. Anything which takes you ‘out’ of the story has to be a bad thing.
Some of the writing is beautiful though. My favourite passages were when Etta is walking with James; their relationship, their dialogue, and the description of the places they walk through are wonderful. When they come to their final river to cross, she takes the bridge and he swims, and we never see James again. I was sorry for that loss.
Click here for Emma Hooper’s website.
If you like ‘Etta and Otto and Russell and James’, try these books:-
‘In Another Life’ by Julie Christine Johnson
‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey’ by Rachel Joyce
‘Ferney’ by James Long
‘Etta and Otto and Russell and James’ by Emma Hooper [UK: Fig Tree] Buy now
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It sounds as though it could have been a wonderful book. I like some of the elements you mention. I don’t like books to end enigmatically, however.
Hi Kate, I don’t mind the enigma as such, it leaves room for the reader’s imagination. But I get irritated when I lose track of timeline, who is speaking/thinking etc. Which is a style thing and a copy-editing thing, and probably says much about the style of book I like to read! I will certainly watch out for Emma Hooper’s next book though. SD
While not the case in this book, I’m sure, I sometimes feel the enigmatic ending is an easy out in some cases. I like to use my imagination, but there are times I feel cheated by what seems irresoution at the end.
This is not a statement about this author’s work. I think I shall read the book as you mentioned things in your review that make the book interesting to me. My remarks about irresolution were meant generally. 🙂
Please read it, and let me know what you think. 🙂 SD
I understand your what you mean by a “sort of” book.” It sounds as though the book was hurried to publication before it was ready.
Yes it’s a shame as the writing was beautiful, just a little too fluid for my taste. I’m sure others will love it tough. SD