Reading: Emma Hooper's Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Toxeamia. A word that starts so harsh and ends so gently. A word whispered from Etta’s mother to her father before they had a chance to recognize all that they were learning. A word carried by Etta’s father up the stairs, oh so carefully, like a baby bird to Etta’s room. He gave it to her more softly than she’d ever heard him speak. Etta took it and held it in her ears at first, and then her head and then, suddenly, and horribly, her heart.
— Emma Hooper, Etta and Otto and Russell and James

I probably would have bought Emma Hooper's debut novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, even if it hadn't already sat in my virtual shopping basket for a few months after seeing the cover occasionally pop up on my Instagram feed – I mean, have you seen that cover?! Now, I'm in no way making a case for using Instagram as a means of selecting your latest read, but when Hannah-Rose Yee takes a photo of a book, you take note. So imagine my joy when I found this book at the same train station bookstore, where merely two weeks earlier I had purchased Laline Paull's The Bees – you might call it my local book dealer by now, what a shame that it's situated in Hamburg, not Berlin.

With Etta and Otto and Russell and James, Emma Hooper manages to enthuse me, make my imagination run wild. When 82-year-old Etta Vogel sets off from her home in Canada's Saskatchewan area in search of the sea, leaving no more than a note and a neat pile of recipe cards for her husband, Otto Vogel, she leaves behind a husband and neighbour and many memories. What follows is a story of the present and the past, a carefully spun tale of talking coyotes and the pains of love and war, poverty and friendship. Although not always roaming the most plausible grounds, I couldn't help but get swept up by Hooper's skillful, pensive writing and shed more than a few tears in the process.

Lilly Wolf