Etta and Otto and Russell and James

by Emma Hooper

Etta is an elderly lady who is beginning to lose her memory. She is looking to the end of her life and decides that she needs to visit the ocean before she dies. She lives in the middle of Canada and has never seen the sea. So one morning she gets up, leaves her husband Otto and their good friend Russell and without telling them, starts walking the 2,000 miles across country to the sea.

As Etta travels we learn about her journey - she meets a wild coyote whom she names James and who becomes her companion - but we also share in her memories of her past. Back home, Otto and Russell look back on their lives. There are stories of relationships, of families and the war. There are sadnesses but because this is such an unusual book touching on reality and fantasy, there is much to make us smile and wonder too.

Otto, Etta’s husband, left at home without her, has to be more inventive with his time. Etta has left him all her recipe cards so that he can cook for himself, and he carefully follows her instructions - with a bit of trial and error. He can only follow Etta’s journey through the newspaper report so he collects all the copies he can, cuts out the article and makes life-size papier mache animal shapes with the leftovers.

The book is beautifully written in a whimsical and lyrical style. It flits back and forward in time, with the different voices of Etta and Otto and Russell, and even James the coyote sometimes. It will delight time and again. I loved it.