Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book Review: "Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

"Etta and Otto and Russell and James" by Emma Hooper
First published in 2015
305 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short of It:
The cover of this novel and the plot summary gave me a skewed expectation of the story. I liked some parts but was disappointed in others, and I was left feeling unsure about the point of it all.

The Long of It:
I was so excited to read this book -- a tale about an 82-year-old woman who, having never seen the sea, decides to walk through the Canadian wilderness thousands of miles to get there. Along the way she's joined by a talking coyote. Sounds whimsical and charming, right?

But... it wasn't the cheerful and light-hearted book I expected. Instead, it had some rather deep themes -- though even after I closed the final page I didn't really understand what the point of the book was and I couldn't grasp exactly what the ending meant. It was all very vague and subtle.

The book is told from a few different perspectives -- Etta's and Otto's and Russell's (shocker!) -- and in two time periods, WWI and present-day. There are also letters mixed in, which I enjoyed. I liked the atmosphere of Gopherlands, Saskatchewan, where Etta is a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse and Otto is a teenager from a family of 17 and Russell is his best friend. And I liked that elderly Etta -- despite being afflicted with Alzheimer's -- decides to pursue her dream of visiting the ocean and does so in a Forrest Gump-style fashion. And I really liked James, the coyote.

Hooper's writing style is different, very spare -- and that means a lack of quote marks and some run-on sentences. After I got accustomed to Hooper's way with words I was cruising right along, expecting all the different stories and the random odds and ends to come together in the end... but they didn't. I had so many unanswered questions. And I was left with the feeling that Hooper meant to tackle some Big Ideas, but I'm kinda in the dark was to what it was all supposed to mean. Perhaps this is one of those books that some people get and some people don't, but unfortunately I was among the confused and vaguely disappointed.

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