Etta and Otto and Russell and James
By Emma Hooper
Simon & Schuster, 2015
Eighty-three year old Etta Kinnick embarks on a journey from Saskatchewan to Halifax – on foot – leaving behind her husband Otto, who she has been married to for decades, and his best friend, Russell, who has been in love with Etta for as long as Otto has. Although her memory is failing, her heart and spirit are strong, and as she slowly makes her way across Canada she befriends a coyote, James, and become a minor celebrity after stories of her journey appear in local papers. Otto copes with his loss by making large papier-mache figures out of newspapers. And Russell goes out in search of Etta. Interspersed into the story of Etta’s journey is the story of how Etta and Otto met, during the 1940s when Etta, just out of teachers college, got her first teaching job in the small town where Otto and Russell grew up.
This book is quirky and imaginative. Some reviewers have taken issue with the veracity of an 83-year old woman walking across modern-day Canada on her own, but I enjoyed her journey and the unusual people and animals she met along the way. And there is a magical element to this book, which reminded me of The Snow Child, which created a touching quality to the journey. This is a book about love, independence, commitment and aging. Some Canadian reviewers feel that it captures Canadian culture in a unique way.
My only issue with the book is that I found the final pages to be a bit rushed. The storytelling becomes more compact, with short fragments of chapters, as the story comes to an end, and I wanted Hooper to draw out her story a little more than she did. But overall, I found this to be an engaging and magical book.
Hooper is an author, musician and academic. From Canada she now lives in Bath, United Kingdom.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley.