Drama · Fiction · Historical · Romance

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

What is it about?

This story spans seventy years and two countries; 1930s to the 2000s, Canada and France. It is about Etta and Otto and Russell, and it tells two stories – the story of their youth, and the story of their old age. Young Etta has just lost her sister, and is pursuing a career in teaching, but then the war hits and the school closes, so she spends her time working in the munitions factory, going to dances with Russell and writing letters to Otto. Old Etta, now suffering from (presumably) dementia, is walking from her and Otto’s little farm to the east coast – she’s never seen the sea. Young Otto is one of a small army of siblings and is best friends with Russell, defending him from bullies and taking him in as a surrogate brother, until Otto goes off to fight in France; at this point his writing ability is somewhat limited, so he asks his schoolteacher (Etta) to keep a correspondence with him. Old Otto is married to Etta, their farm next to Russell’s, and when she goes wandering he is left behind to look after a guinea pig and to make an entire zoo of paper mache animals. Young Russell is sent to live with his aunt and uncle on their farm, where he makes friends with Otto – a relationship which ultimately cripples his leg; for him it is love at first sight when the new schoolteacher shows up. Old Russell is obsessed with deer. So who’s James? James is someone Old Etta meets on her travels. James is a coyote.

Is it any good?

This quirky, unique little novel was like a breath of fresh air. Hooper has a distinctive and clear writer’s voice that is as stunningly descriptive as it is poetic. The interweaving of the two stories was very cleverly done, although at one or two points towards the end it got a little bit confusing for me. I usually struggle to read a book into the night – I have been found face down, snoring into books more times than I care to count – but I read this one right past midnight.

Rating: 9/10

How long did it take to read: three (busy) days

For fans of: Elizabeth is Missing, travel, wunderlust, bittersweet endings, prose that reads like poetry, love stories that aren’t just about love

This book tastes like: dandelion and burdock fizzy drink

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