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Etta and Otto and Russell and James

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  11,102 ratings  ·  2,008 reviews
A gorgeous literary debut about an elderly woman’s last great adventure walking across Canada. A beautiful novel of pilgrimage, of fulfilling lifelong promises, of a talking coyote called James, of unlikely heroes and hundreds of papier-mâché animals…

Eighty-two-year-old Etta has never seen the ocean. So early one morning she takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boot
Hardcover, 305 pages
Published January 20th 2015 by Penguin Canada
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Deb I just finished and was wondering the same thing...Found this in an interview with the author,
"The sense of an ending

As the novel goes on, the past an…more
I just finished and was wondering the same thing...Found this in an interview with the author,
"The sense of an ending

As the novel goes on, the past and the present—and what is real and what is imagined—all start to blur.

“I wanted it to be non-linear and a little bit confusing at times. But you don’t want to turn people off and you don’t want to be self-indulgent, so striking the right balance took a little bit of back and forth.”

I found the ending of the novel to be ambiguous, which Hooper is delighted to hear. “I had a meeting with Juliet [Annan, her editor] and the publicists last week— and they were like: ‘So, we all disagree on what happens at the end . . .’”

This is exactly the result Hooper was aiming for. “Within my academic life, I’m very into the ‘death of the author’, what that did to art and what it continues to do. I really like the idea that people can come up with really strong opinions as to what happened and it really doesn’t matter what I think. So it’s definitely, deliberately ‘choose your own adventure’ there at the end,” she says.

So did Penguin ask for a clearer resolution? “Not as my publishers, I think just as human beings. People want to know if they are right or not. And most people don’t have the chance to ask the author.”

Her parting wish, before she catches the train back to Bath, is for readers of Etta and Otto and Russell and James to “trust the conclusion that they draw”.

Community Reviews

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Average rating 3.67  · 
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 ·  11,102 ratings  ·  2,008 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Sep 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A difficult book for me to review, so I am just going to tell you why I loved this story. The characters have such a touching vulnerability, they have known each other for such a long time, have a shared past that is memorable. A book about a journey, a quest if you will, about memories, longing and unfulfilled desires. Much is told in letters and flashbacks and a wonderful usage of magical realism. Those who go and those who stay waiting. An ending that is left to the reader's interpretation, b ...more
Nov 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I happened upon an advanced reader's copy of this book, and I am going to really do my darnedest to convince anyone who is reading this review to give this book a shot because it is now one of my favorites ever. I even made a (rough) map of her journey and included excerpts to ignite your interest in this unique and special tale.


I've gone. I've never seen the water, so I've gone there. Don't worry, I've left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.

Yours (always
Angela M
Sep 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Is it unrealistic that an eighty two year old woman who is losing her memory will set out on a walk to the ocean that is 3232 kilometers away ( just over 2008 miles for those of you who need the conversion like I did), and that her husband of over 60 years would let her go while he stays home writing her letters he doesn't send and making paper mache figures ? It's hard to imagine that this would happen , but a lot of unlikely things happen in fiction and in life and this story isn't really jus
I really hate to come across as negative, but primarily because of all the rave reviews for this book, I was really excited to get my hands on it. Did I set my expectations too high? Possibly. All I can say is I was so disappointed. The story of Etta setting off walking at the age of eighty two, to see the sea ( because she's never seen it ) WAS sweet and even moving at times, but it just didn't grab me in the same way that it did other reviewers. ...more
Carole (Carole's Random Life in Books)
This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life.

2 Stars

This book didn't work for me. I read a lot of books because I enjoy reading. I love connecting with a story, falling in love with characters, and everything involved with being told a really great story. When I come to the end of a book, I love the feeling of satisfaction that I get with most stories. This book left me feeling completely underwhelmed and quite confused.

I liked the idea behind this book and decided to read it because i
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read at least 50 books this year. It is a rare occasion at the book's end to find tears swelling in my eyes. Rarely do characters step out from behind the veil and take you traveling with them for some hundred pages so that at the journey's end you mourn the loss of what was shared.

Emma Hooper's Etta and Otto and Russell and James is that kind of book.

When I first saw the book on NetGalley and read it was about an 83 year old woman on a trek across Canada accompanied by a coyote I was not
There is Etta. Etta is 82 and she has never seen the sea. So she is walking, walking to the sea to finally see it. Etta is starting to forget things.
There is Otto. Etta's husband. Otto remembers everything. So they balance. Otto loves Etta so, so much.
There is Etta. She answers Otto's letters when he is away. And she bakes and bakes and bakes.
There is Otto. He is away. It is the war. Otto writes to Etta. He is scared. Sometimes things are not quite what you imagined them to be.
There is Russe
Feb 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. I don't even know really what to say about this book.

After reading this I found out that Emma Hooper is also a musician. The style of writing that is in this book is very much like a song. With verses and choruses; going from past to present in short amount of words. Very poetic!

The story is gently told in such a beautiful and almost child-like way. I loved it! The ending was abrupt, but very meaningful and left the reader to interpret the story as a whole.

To me this story was about memor
Oct 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-novels
3.5 stars
An unusual and charming story which does not quite make its mind up what it wants to be. It is set in rural Canada in Saskatchewan. Etta and Otto are in their early 80s and have been married for over fifty years. Russell, their neighbour has known them both since childhood and has loved Etta since then as well. Etta appears to be in the early stages of dementia. Etta has never seen the sea and decides one day to walk to the sea alone without telling anyone. She could walk about eight hu
Feb 20, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m not quite sure what to make of Emma Hooper’s dreamlike debut novel and after turning the last page, I’m not even sure whether I liked it or not.

The book has been compared – unjustly, I think – with Rachel Joyce’s The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Indeed, in both books, an elderly protagonist (in this case, Etta) toes on an unexpected lengthy and arduous pilgrimage. Etta, a woman in her early 80s who is suffering from early-sage dementia, departs from her Saskatchewan farm to view the ocean. She
4.5 Stars

Chronologically, this begins in the Great Plains of Saskatchewan during the years of the Great Depression, with the Vogel family, a family with fifteen children. The children each had a name, of course, but were just as often referred to by their number. First born being Marie, whose number was 1, Otto was number 7. And then one day Russell, a boy the same age as Otto, joins the family.

As the Great Depression, the drought and the never-ending dust blowing brought about the sudden depar
Sometimes I find that the best writers break all the rules. It’s not because they don’t know the rules but that they are good enough to transcend the rules. Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner come to mind. If an author’s writing style is polished enough that a reader doesn’t miss the missing quotation marks and commas, then the author can be forgiven for not using them. Emma Hooper is such a writer. The first thing that drew me to the novel was the title with all it’s palindromic names and nam ...more
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed the structure of this novel, with the shifting perspectives narrated in very short chapters and letters. The storytelling flowed quickly and the "unknowns" made perfect sense given the different storytellers. I've ready many comparisons to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which are fair. This is also a pilgrimage novel but it veers from Harold Fry in so many ways, not the least of which is a talking coyote.

I like this book for its quirkiness, for its balance of dark and li
Betsy Robinson
Mar 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the completely original and deeply romantic story, told out of chronological order, of 83-year-old Etta who leaves her husband, Otto, to walk east through Canada to find the sea, leaving a note that says: “I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry, I’ve left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.”

Along her journey she is accompanied by a talking coyote named James and a journalist. She sometimes dreams she is her husband and sometimes
Dale Harcombe
Three and a half stars.
Etta has a great unfulfilled wish and that is to see the sea. Leaving her farmland home in Saskatchewan Etta, aged eighty two, sets off one morning early to walk to the sea. Her husband Otto stays at home and makes no attempt to go after her, even though Etta is starting to forget things. He simply has to trust she will remember enough to find her way home again. Meanwhile he occupies himself making papier mache animals. Russell, their next door neighbour who has loved Ett
Connie G
Jan 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, canada, book-club
Etta left a letter for her husband Otto: "I've gone. I've never seen the water, so I've gone there. Don't worry, I've left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back."

This charming story about three octogenarians had me turning the pages, hoping that Etta would fulfill her wish as she walked 3,200 km to the ocean. The book looks back at them growing up on the dry dusty farms of Saskatchewan, Russell's childhood injury, Etta teaching in a one-room schoolhouse, and Otto's terri
I received this book through GR’s First Reads Program. Thank you!

I read this book from start to finish with a magnifying glass. I am telling you this simply because even given the difficulty it posed for me to read the book, given my poor eyesight, I would not quit. It was that good!

You can read a book of fiction for the story that is told, for what happens, Let's call this plot. Or you can read fiction for how it is written, for the charm, beauty, wisdom and humor of the lines. It was the latt
Dorothy Flaxman
Etta’s greatest unfulfilled wish, living in the rolling farmland of Saskatchewan, is to see the sea. At the age of 82 she gets up very early one morning takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots and begins the 2000 mile walk to the sea.
I began to understand very early on that this book was not based on realism. An 82 year old woman, quite clearly, cannot walk 2000 miles alone and so there had to be some other premise on which to base the book.
My take on the book is that it is based on th
Feb 07, 2015 marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 21st-century, canada

What a mash-up!

This reads like The Stone Angel meets The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry meets Midnight's Children. That's a lot of disparate voices to keep in one's head while reading.

With neither the sharp wit of Hagar Shipley, nor the tenderness of Harold Fry, nor the inventiveness of Saleem Sinai, 82-year-old Etta sets out on a most improbable journey, that carries no rich allegory nor metaphor for living. That's the part that I feel Hooper forgot in casting her net so wide: her ow
Etta and Otto and Russell and JamesEtta and Otto and Russell and James byEmma Hooper won my heart combining many of my favorite elements, aging protagonists, animals, a quest, coming of age tales and a homespun voice.

At the beginning of the book we meet octogenarian Otto who finds a note from his wife Etta, which says she has left to see the ocean. Otto and Etta, a married couple who live on a farm in Saskatchewan next to their neighbor and old friend who Otto grew up with, Russel. Otto instinc
Emily Wood
Touchingly written and at times truly moving, Emma Hooper has crafted a delightful novel, a patchwork quilt of letters, recipes, songs and haunting images that moves though entire lifetimes like a sweeping prairie wind. Yet ultimately, it lacked the coherence of character and the narrative drive to keep me completely convinced until the very end

I found it very hard knowing what to make of this book. I read it over a fairly long period of time, squeezing in several pages at a time while commuting
If the setup of Emma Hooper’s debut novel sounds familiar, that is because she borrows liberally from Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Still, Etta and Otto and Russell and James is unique in some aspects. It vacillates between the stylistic extremes of minimalism and magic realism and, more so than Harold Fry, relies on the interplay between past and present, with flashbacks to Etta’s and Otto’s childhoods as well as to Otto’s war service.

(For me, though, Etta’s journey felt
Gill's likes reading
I am not sure how to describe this book at all, although I think it is an 'either you get it - or you don't. But here goes:

This is one of the most gentlest of books that tackles ageing, dreams, lost dreams, life and realities that I have read in a long time.

With a letter to start the book there is no doubt what 83 year old Etta is about to do.

I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry, I’ve left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.
May 30, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
DNF. What is it with all those old men and women lately getting up and going out the door for a walk of thousands of miles? Or is it just a reflection of our modern fantasy of staying young forever, and never having to confront and deal with old age? It was masterfully done in The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, much less so in that Swedish bestseller (The one-hundred year old man who...), and was even seen in a few movies during the past decade. For this book to really grip me, it would have had to h ...more
Book Concierge
Eighty-two-year-old Etta has never seen the sea, so she decides one day to leave her Saskatchewan farm and head out on foot. She leaves behind her husband, Otto, and their neighbor, Russell. Along the way she encounters James, and a host of other characters.

The novel is told in a series of letters, messages, and vignettes that move back and forth in time, eventually revealing Etta’s and Otto’s and Russell’s stories, from their childhoods through the war years and into adulthood. It reminded me
Jan 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley

Otto Vogel comes from a family of fifteen children that live on a farm in rural Saskatchewan. Russell, when he is nine years old, is sent to live with his aunt and uncle who are neighbors of the Vogel family. Russell plays with the Vogel children, eats with the family and does a fair share of chores on their farm and thus becomes the honorary 16th member of the Vogel family.

Otto, against the wishes of his mother, joins the army a
Mar 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When 80 year old Etta embarks on a pilgrimage of 2000 miles on foot, from the 'Prairie Province' of Canada to the sea, the walk becomes a journey through her memories and a poignant meditation on friendship, loss, love and ageing. The impressionistic style, with its lyrical rhythmic cadences, reflects the dreamlike quality of Etta’s state of dementia - even those readers who don't care for magical realism will find it hard to resist its charm.

Reviewed for
oh, man. i so wanted to love this story, but found too much clunkiness within.

it's inevitable that readers will draw comparisons to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. and it seems to me that older characters (The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules) and walking (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail) are, lately, a 'thing' publishers are looking for. 'quirky' also seems to be a th
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The story itself was quite hard to follow. I found that it flicked from one characters story to another and was a bit confusing and hard to follow in places. I am not sure if that was partly down to the layout on my kindle but it did make it hard to enjoy reading it.

I read this to review it after hearing positive things on Twitter about it and thought it would be a good read after reading the product description. The storyline was quite a nice one and I was torn as I kept wanting to find out how
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Books about Places and People. Songs about Dinosaurs and Insects. Research about Pop Music and Robots. Emma lives, writes, plays and teaches in Bath, England, but goes home to Canada to cross-country ski as often as she can.

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