Friday, May 29, 2015

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

Title: Etta and Otto and Russell and James
Author: Emma Hooper
Read by: Robert G. Slade
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 8 hours
Source: Simon & Schuster Digital Audio Review Copy – Thank-you!

Etta is an eighty-three year old woman with dementia.  One day she wakes up and decides that she wants to see the ocean and begins a trek from her rural Saskatchewan, Canadian home to the Atlantic Ocean.  Along the way she meets a coyote named James and the two become an unlikely duo on their epic voyage.  Etta’s husband Otto awakens to find a note from Etta describing her voyage and hope that she will remember to return.  Otto mourns her absence by creating wonderful works of yard art as he awaits her return.  Their neighbor and Otto’s childhood friend Russell sets off to find Etta.

As Etta’s reality and past are muddled together seamlessly, so is the story.  It flashes back to Otto and Russell’s youth growing up together and Etta’s first foray into their town as their young school teacher.  Otto is sent to Europe to fight in WWII while starting a correspondence with Etta.  Back at the home front, Russell farms for Canada and dances on the weekends with Etta.  They are in their own love triangle, one that will ultimately end with Etta and Otto married and Russell their bachelor neighbor. 

I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook.  Robert G. Slade was a good narrator and I really got into the story.  I loved Etta’s epic trek, but even more I loved her, Otto, and Russell’s past and seeing how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together.  The WWII experience through Otto’s letters and Etta and Russell’s experience on the Canadian home front was both interesting and tragic.

This novel is not a straightforward novel and it is often confusing on what is real and what is not real.  While I would have loved James to be a real talking coyote, he seemed like a manifestation that Etta was able to talk to.  James was also the name of her sister’s baby that died and Etta has a deep sadness that she and Otto were not able to have kids.


Did anyone else get the sense that when Otto said, “This wouldn’t have happened with Russell” about Etta not being able to carry a baby to term that it was something that Otto picked up from his prostitute in Europe?


The novel was lyrical, but also seemed to consider the question of what is love and how love can grow and change over a lifetime.  The ending was rather abrupt and confused me; I had to listen to it a couple of times.  Etta is waiting at the train station for Otto it seems like both in the past and in the future and after pondering I thought it was a good ending.  It was definitely a book that got me thinking and will keep me thinking about it in the future.


  1. Laura, thanks for sharing your honest thoughts about this book. I have had the experience of having to reread (or rewatch) endings in order to make sure I that understand what has happened in a story (I prefer things to be crystal clear).

  2. I haven't seen this book before but it sounds like an interesting read!

  3. Thank-you! I've found myself rereading and relistening to a lot of endings lately. Is it just me?