Etta and Otto and Russell and James – Emma Hooper
An endearing, if overly-familiar, debut novel featuring some loveable characters
Parts of Emma Hooper’s debut read like Wes Anderson adapting a Cormac McCarthy novel. She captures the dusty, empty fields of Saskatchewan with the similar staccato rhythm of the All the Pretty Horses author, while imbuing this sweet story – in which 82 year old Etta sets off on a 2000 mile trek to Halifax on Canada’s east coast to see the ocean – with the kind of deadpan quirkiness that characterises The Grand Budapest Hotel director’s style.
Etta leaves behind not only her husband Otto but their friend, neighbour and Etta’s former lover, Russell, and the book switches between their shared past and present. It’s a sweet novel that’s best read to a soundtrack of Hooper’s own music (she plays ‘dino-viola-pop’ in her Waitress for the Bees solo project). But while it starts strongly, its later chapters – flashbacks to Etta and Otto’s wartime correspondence – tell an overly-familiar story. Russell too gets a little forgotten about half-way through and his story feels incomplete. Still, it’s an endearing romance about some loveable characters.
Out now, from Penguin