Etta and Otto and Russell and James: A Novel - Emma Hooper

This is one of those books, I think, that people are either going to either love or hate. It is written in a unique, lyrical prose that sometimes feels more like a poem than a novel. It is also going to be subject to the scrutiny of the ardent fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry because it will surely be compared to that book.


When I finished reading it, I went online to check out some other reviews, and to see if someone could explain a part I was confused by in a satisfying way. Instead, I found a lot of love and some hate (like I thought). I found that many people were annoyed by the grammar in the book (no quotation marks), which was funny to me, since I did not even notice this while I read. How weird, because I am typically a grammar fiend myself. You are probably guessing this opinion would put me firmly in the “lover” camp for this book.


Etta’s story, when it begins, feels very familiar if you took that journey with Harold Fry, and in many ways, they cover a lot of similar emotional ground. As for the setting, we are crossing Canada, though the terrain seems a bit tamer than I’ve been led to believe. In any case, Etta has set off on a journey that becomes surprisingly tense when we realize that perhaps she is not as equipped to make it as we originally thought. I did love this book. I loved the journey, and I loved the flashbacks to the war and the beginnings of their relationship. I loved the connections between Etta and Otto and Russell and James. I enjoyed my trip with Etta across Canada, and I wanted her to find what she was missing. I cared about her and each person she left behind, and I was happy to share in their intimate correspondence. It was a compelling story told with love and humor, and, just like Dorothy, it made me understand once more how sometimes you have to travel very far to appreciate what’s been right in front of you all along.