A lot of hype was surrounding this book and, of course, I completely fell for it.
* CONTAINS SPOILERS
Published this year, Emma and Otto and Russell and James is the first novel by Canadian writer, Emma Hooper.
One day eighty-two year old, Etta, decides to leave the home she shares with Otto in Saskatchewan to walk across Canada to the ocean because she’s never seen it. As she walks, she remembers how much she loved her sister and lost her so suddenly. She also remembers falling in love with Otto long-distance while he was in Europe fighting the war and growing close to Russell, a family friend who remained behind. Meanwhile, back at home, Otto waits patiently for Etta to come back. He occupies his time by learning how to bake, making art and arguing with Russell about going after Etta. He firmly believes in the love he shares with Etta, but time is slipping away and Otto along with it. When Etta finally reaches the water, she is able to find release from the regrets and longings of her past.
As with most Canadian novels with this setting, I enjoyed reading about how Etta and Otto grew-up together on the prairie. As well as the separation and tragedy they faced due to the war and how they clung to each other by letter, ultimately falling in love. In particular, I liked how Etta and Otto are so passionate in their youth, and charming in their winter years, despite the eccentricities they seem to develop.
Honestly, I didn’t get the point of Etta’s journey. Was it because she knew she was going to die or wanted to die? It wasn’t clear to me. The magic realism was interesting, but also felt awkward because nothing magical happened when the characters were young, only when they were old (or is that what happens to you when it’s time?). During her walk, Etta becomes a bit of celebrity and this really did not sit well with me because I thought it just cheapened this extraordinary journey she was supposed to be having. In addition, I wasn’t feeling the relationship that was implied between Etta and Russell. To me, Russell was not an important character at all.
Did I totally miss the boat on this book? I heard that this book is a lot like The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, but I haven’t read that book to compare. Emma Hooper should get credit for writing such an incredibly sweet story, but all of the beefs I noted above were difficult to stop thinking about as I read and took away from the book’s strengths. Oh yeah, and James is a talking wolf. *shrugs*