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Etta and Otto and Russell and James - January (2015) book club

(132 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Mon 15-Dec-14 10:44:28

Before we start on the mulled wine get bogged down in festive preparations, we thought we'd get the thread up and running for those who won a copy of Etta to chat about the book and add their thoughts and questions.

You can read more about the book/author here

redamanthas Thu 22-Jan-15 20:49:25

Like a lot of other readers I really enjoyed the start of this book and soon got uses to the lack of speech marks. I liked the to and fro from present to past and the story unfolding about the three main characters. But rAther than draw me further in Etta' s continuing journey with James pushed me further away. I foundations increasingly confused state irritating as an description of these older people. I didn't finish the book as the care I felt over them dissipated over the chapters. Sorry Emma but not my cup of tea at all.

sallyc06 Fri 23-Jan-15 10:03:39

I loved this book, I couldn't put it down, a refreshing outlook. Well done!

adrisco Fri 23-Jan-15 11:17:08

I have just finished this book. Different to the stuff I usually read - but I loved it. Gentle and thought provoking.

granh1 Fri 23-Jan-15 18:32:26

I've enjoyed reading Etta and Otto, but where do I post a review of the book?

Annie29 Sat 24-Jan-15 09:13:43

I have just finished reading this book. Enjoyed it, loved the cover. Thank you

Hameringham Sun 25-Jan-15 15:33:42

The writing style of Melissa is most unusual. The way the characters and threads are interwoven makes for a fascinating and intriguing read. Where did the idea of a talking Coyote come from?

GrannyGlyn Sun 25-Jan-15 18:43:28

I started reading the book quite soon after I received it but have to confess it was not the genre I would normally read and gave up after a few chapters.

I was galvanized into action last week when I realised January was almost half over and I had read some of the reviews already posted.

I am so glad I picked it up again.

I found the book to be fascinating as I tried to understand the characters and the story being portrayed.

Often at the end of a book I give little further thought to it but this time I have been mulling it over to try and understand it.

Was Etta journeying in the afterlife and did the others meet her there?

Thanks for a thought provoking read!

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Mon 26-Jan-15 14:20:59


I've enjoyed reading Etta and Otto, but where do I post a review of the book?

You can add it to this thread or post it here

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Mon 26-Jan-15 14:21:28

Sending the questions over to Emma now - looking forward to finding out more (especially about the ending!) soon!

gardener Tue 27-Jan-15 10:41:27

Myself, I found the storyline a bit confusing.Then I lent it to a friend
( Another Gran )

Here are her comments:-

" Not the usual run of the mill love story, but a love story nevertheless.
I found it a bit like the Harold Fry story in parts, but this was much deeper. It hints at the Universal Mind, on a psychological level, where there is unity betweeen people/souls who have lived closely together.
It recognises that we live in a duality of physical/spiritual existence.
I liked it. "

I would like to ask the author what she thinks of these comments and does she agree with Another Gran ?

graninfrance Fri 30-Jan-15 10:25:43

Thank you for the opportunity to read this book. It is not one which I would have chosen as I tend not to enjoy stories with a fantasy element. There were aspects which I enjoyed - how the characters' lives developed and had been interwoven, although there was perhaps too much scope for interpretation and imagination. The latter is not a forte of mine! The character of James, the coyote, was a step too far for me, and I was very confused by the merging of Etta and Otto at the end. Other readers' comments have perhaps helped me towards the possible interpretations I could have made. I was fairly happy with the style of writing, moving from one time frame and place to another, as this seems a fairly common practice. Despite being something of a stickler for punctuation (!), I didn't mind the lack of speech marks. I found the book interesting rather than enjoyable and will probably not choose this author again. Sorry!

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 16:50:15


Thank you Gransnet for a great read. They say never judge a book by it's cover - but an exception should be made for this one. A beautiful and slightly mystical cover and I am going to say the same of the writing. I galloped through the first half, intrigued and captivated by the story then...whoa! No spoilers here - but the rest of it certainly makes you think. Emma Hooper has such an imagination to bring all of this together. Her descriptions of the battles fought during the lifetimes of the characters are so visual and insightful. Gransnetters, have you taken notice of the endpapers, the linings inside the cover? They are like a 'Can you spot...?' game. My questions for Emma ...why papier mache animals and do you have a guinea pig?

Sadly, I have never had a guinea pig, or any kind of small fluffy pet. I did have a cat growing up, and she would have eaten it, I imagine…. However, that didn’t stop me wanting to have them, and nagging my parents for them a lot.

As for papier maché, there are two answers to this question, the superficial and the slightly more deep. Superficially, paper-maché is fun and I love it. I won my grade 8 science fair by making a paper-maché dolphin to scale with all its organs in place… I think doing and making hands-on crafts is good for the head and the heart. On a another level, a running theme in this book is the ‘swap’ that Etta and Otto are undergoing, both in terms of the stereotypical gender roles of their generation, and also the roles they’ve played throughout their own, specific lives. Etta does this by ‘doing’ and ‘going’, and Otto by ‘creating’ and ‘nuturing.’ Hence the papier mache (and the baking, and the guinea pig too).

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 16:52:33


I am struggling with this book and find the format quite disjointed. I have to consciously think what year we are in each time it changes, which I think makes for uncomfortable reading.

I do like the characters and the description of Canadian life but it is not a book I would re-read or even pass on to my book group friends. Sorry!

The question I would pose is:

Why choose this disjointed format for an interesting story?

The structure of the book is meant to mirror Etta’s own disjointed thoughts and memories. One of the things that is most striking, to me, about memory loss, is how sufferers often loose the present, or short-term, while staying firm and clear in the long-term or distance. I wanted to explore this idea one step further, with Etta is losing her own memories, and with them her sense of self, and soaking up Otto’s instead, particularly those distant, long-term memories of war and water. This is, ultimately, what spurs her to undertake the journey for herself, to re-write the history she’s remembering on her own terms.

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 16:54:25


I note that this was your debut novel. Do you plan to write another in the near furure?

I do! I’m right in the middle of writing it now, in fact. It’s set in stormy, lonely, Newfoundland. There are mermaids.

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 16:54:59


An interesting read, and I enjoyed learning about Canada during the War.
However, unlike Greenfingers, I didn't feel the story came together at the end. What happened to them?
I felt so sorry when James got his foot trapped-and what happened to him ? And was he real? (I realise he didn't really converse with Etta, that bit I understood.)

There definitely is a deliberate ambiguity about the ending of the novel. I wanted to encourage the reader to take the reigns and have some decisive power with their own interpretation. As a reader I find that I’m more involved with stories I have to ‘figure out for myself’ to some extent, and I wanted to leave space for that. Breathing room… That’s not to say there is one “right answer” or “real” interpretation… just the opposite, really!

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 16:56:40


My questions are:

Was Etta supposed to have Alzheimers or Dementia?

Was the book suggesting that the roles had reversed with Etta & Otto?
The fact that Otto was at War, all of his fear & adventures, whilst she pottered Baked, danced...
Then her turn? she walked for her freedom & adventure? whilst he pottered and found a new hobby of the Papier mache?
Both waiting in a different era?

You’ve hit the nail exactly on the head, hollystone. I got into this a little with Nonnanna’s question about papier maché: On a another level, a running theme in this book is the ‘swap’ that Etta and Otto are undergoing, both in terms of the stereotypical gender roles of their generation, and also the roles they’ve played throughout their own, specific lives. Etta does this by ‘doing’ and ‘going’, and Otto by ‘creating’ and ‘nuturing.’ Hence the papier mache (and the baking, and the guinea pig too).

Etta is suffering from the onset of dementia.

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 16:57:22


Thank you for the book. I agree with other readers that it was quite like 'Harold Fry' in parts.
I really enjoyed reading it, I loved the characters and felt there was a lot of 'Meat on their bones'
I loved that 'James' the coyote had a dialogue, however when it got to the end, I felt cheated somehow as I could not grasp what the situation was.
I'm with' hollystone' here in that I thought it confusing as well. My brain was trying, REALLY trying to sort it out.Had Otto been killed in the war and he was a figment of Etta's dementia, or did Otto have dementia and he thought Etta was still alive but that she had gone on a long walk..but that theory doesn't add up either as other people throughout the story are recognising Etta and cheering her on.
Does Emma even know what happened, even though she wrote the story ?! Are we meant to be left wanting..or did we just not 'Get it'? I would like Emma to put us out of our misery and explain the ending!
All in all a good read right up to the end, and then a flatness as though my effort had been wasted !!

Haha. I have my own idea of what might have happened at the end, but don’t feel bad that you didn’t ‘get it’ smile I left the ending deliberately ambiguous so that you (aka readers) would be left thinking it over and come to their own conclusions. Don’t worry, even my editor and my agent have different interpretations!

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 16:58:03


After an intriguing beginning it began to lose its appeal as the main characters lacked any real depth and the magical reality didn't ever gel for me. I would like to ask the author what was her inspiration for writing this novel.

Well, rather appropriately for Gransnet, the characters of Etta and Otto are loosely based on my maternal grandparents. My grandmother did actually teach in a one room school house in Saskatchewan, and my grandfather did grow up in a farm family of fifteen kids (and his hair did all go white when he was overseas for the war)… The plot came from a love and fascination with the hugeness of Canada. Living in England, now, which you can bike across in a week, it struck me how the size of your country affects your relationship with it, how very different it is to ‘know’ your country when it is so huge, and how walking across it is at once a gentle (since, after all, it is just walking, not running or mountain climbing…) and hugely adventurous way to get to know it more fully.

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 17:01:56


Where did the idea come from regarding your story do you know personally some people who have been through similar in their lifetime.

Oh, ha! Please see my answer for the last question grin

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 17:02:21


A great choice for a book club discussion as it was so difficult to distinguish between reality and delusion
I just loved the language in this book - it was almost a poem and I enjoyed reading it very much
There are so many questions for the author
have all the characters died by the end?
what is the significance of the papermache animals?
but the oddest section to me was the scene in the care home - is that when Etta dies?
It is a book I will go back and read again and I very rarely do that
Thank you for my copy

There are differing interpretations of what happens at the end, who dies and who doesn’t… The best answer I can give for this is: what did you think when you got there? Trust that. (No, really, trust it!)

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 17:02:53


I was thrilled to receive this book...the cover is delightful !!
But now I've finished reading it, I have to agree with many of the earlier comments ......I found it very confusing which really spoiled my enjoyment of the book.
I would also like the author to make it clear to us all what exactly happens at the end.
Does Etta drown herself ?
Does Otto die in the home ?
What about Russell ?
I wonder.....will it make it all clearer if I reread it?
Sorry to the author for being so negative.

Although I know it can be frustrating for some, it’s intentional that what happens isn’t entirely clear at the end. Overall, I’ll say what I said to CathIsherwood: The best answer I can give for this is: what did you think when you got there? Trust that. (No, really, trust it!)

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 17:03:20


I found this book intriguing and challenging at first but once I had got well into it found many poignant moments and was encouraged to continue reading. Like other club members I did find the ending a little confused or rather the ending challenged my understanding of the story as it developed.

Books on writing suggest using the viewpoint of more than one character is best avoided whilst flashback should be used sparingly. This novel would seem to flout both conventions and my question for the author would be did she consider using the viewpoint of a single character or telling the story more sequentially?

I did consider it, and have written many stories and creative non-fiction pieces with a single viewpoint and/or a simple time-frame. This time, however, I wanted to approach the themes of memory and long and deep relationships in this book through both its content and the structure. That is to say, I found that the best way to write about the intertwined lives of these characters was to let their voices intertwine.

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 17:04:18


Thank you for my copy of Etta and Otto and Russell and James which I enjoyed reading.

I thought the cover itself is worthy of mention as it is so unusual and in particular, somehow helped me visualise James! The endpapers are also intriguing, for as one delves deeper, one realises the significance of each object.

It took a page of two before I could submerge myself in the book, as was the lack of speech marks but as I progressed I found I little trouble differentiating the characters who were speaking.

I love the idea of Etta taking her journey and it has given me ideas for the future! I was rooting for Etta and willing her to complete her journey safely........

James as her companion was just wonderful and once I had suspended belief, he became an eminently understandable integral player in the story.

The pages I thought were outstanding were 243-5. I won't spoil this section for others (who may not have reached this spot yet) but these words were some of the best I have read regarding sudden warfare.

Almost as riveting was the sadness of pages 249/50. Written so simply, one immediately understands and sympathises with Etta's terrible problem. Very sad.

I do admit being a little confused at the latter stages of the book when Otto and Etta merge and a little unsure as to why.

My questions for Emma Hooper are: I was puzzled as to the character of Bryrony and would love to know what Emma felt Bryony brought to the story and therefore what was Emma's intention in introducing her? Secondly, why did Otto/Emma merge? Apologies if I have missed something fundamental here! Thank you for a very different, mesmerising book.

First: Thanks! Secondly, in terms of Bryony, she comes along as another generation, to contrast with Etta. She’s from a much later time, where women wear business suits and have urban lives and careers. Despite this difference, at her core she shares the same type of hopes and longing and personal sadnesses that Etta does. I wanted to show this connection across generations.

Etta and Otto are merging little by little and more and more throughout the whole book, as Etta’s dementia begins to take hold, demonstrating both their closeness and connection after decades together, and the need for each to reaffirm their individuality (which is part of why Etta goes walking in the first place, to re-find herself…).

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 17:05:31


Took a bit getting used to no speech commas. That being said it didnt detract from the flow of the tale. I think the lack of specifics in the tale is more than compensated by the inferred emotion coming from the pages. There's more to be sussed out by imagining whats not said from what is. It was enjoyable, but more difficult to read than others I've read recently. I felt robbed on the pages that had little written on them. What was the purpose of this please Emma? Also the ending left more questions than a satisfying conclusion for me personally. But would thoroughly rate it. Thank you G.Net.

I think my musical background makes me overly sensitive to things like rhythm, pacing and white space in my own writing. I can spend ages labouring over one sentence that’s perfectly okay in terms of grammar and content, but doesn’t have quite the rhythm, quite the right tempo. It pushes prose a bit more in the direction of poetry, I think (although I also think there’s no definite line there, no black and white. I like the idea of prose that reaches into poetry sometimes and vice versa).

In terms of the white space, specifically, I think you need a bit of empty time at some points, like the silence between tracks on an album, or between movements of a symphony. It sets the tempo and lets you digest a bit at key points, before moving forward.

EmmaHooper Wed 04-Feb-15 17:05:53


Lovely book to receive, thank you! Attractive cover and easy to read, necessary with my attention span these days.
I couldn't put it down. I felt it reminded me a touch of 'the unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry', she wanted to go her own way and not be troubled, but became a bit of a hero in the eyes of the public. I found the history of the characters interesting, how they were all tied together, but I do wonder what happened to the rest of Otto's siblings?!
Parts were confusing, wasn't really sure what was happening in the nursing home, perhaps Emma could explain..? But the ending was sad if it indicated what I assumed, won't spoil it for others.
All in all a good read and thoroughly recommended.

Hi Tigerlily13, the nursing home is where Etta’s at her worst, her dementia has caught up with her to such an extent that she’s almost entirely lost herself to the memories of her husband, Otto, until James arrives and helps remind her who she is.