the letter began, in blue ink.
I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry. I’ve left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.
Etta’s greatest unfulfilled wish, living in the rolling farmland of Saskatchewan, is to see the sea. And so, at the age of eighty-two she gets up very early one morning, takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 2, 000 miles to water.
Meanwhile her husband Otto waits patiently at home, left only with his memories. Their neighbour Russell remembers too, but differently – and he still loves Etta as much as he did more than fifty years ago, before she married Otto.
What I thought:
It’s hard to sum up what I thought about this one because there is so much to it.
Firstly, it’s not my normal type of book. I feel this is an important thing to point out. It’s definitely not one I would have picked out for myself but that’s the point of these reading challenges, to read books I wouldn’t otherwise. I’m also still trying to work out what I thought about it over two weeks on from finishing it so bare with me.
The story jumps around time and people; Etta, Otto, and Russel. (James is the coyote/dog Etta picks up along her way). You learn who these people are now as well as story of how they got there. Each chapter curling around another one until your not quite sure where one starts and the other beginnings but the time difference between them isn’t that important because the characters are the same. Learning how Otto went to war is just as important as how he survives without Etta. It doesn’t matter what time you’re in because Otto is the same.
The writing is beautiful, of that I’m in no doubt. You can almost feel the heat of the sun on your back and taste the dust on the wind. Hooper’s writing is stunning and brings these characters and places to life on the page. Etta isn’t written as a 80-something woman she is just a woman who happens to be in her 80s. It’s not weird or gross old people kissing, it’s just Etta kissing Otto. These are people who have lived a full life; they might find some things harder or maybe not always remember properly but they are still people. They still have hopes and dreams and goals for life. And this is very much a character book and about the journey it takes to get places. Etta wants to go to the ocean, she could speed up the journey and go by car but she doesn’t. She walks across fields and countryside staying as far away from people and busy places as possible, allowing herself the time to just think and not worry about anything apart from putting one foot in front another. As a reader this allows you the time to get to know the characters, when they are old you want them as your grandparents and when they are younger you want them as your friend but can already feel the age on them.
My only slight criticism is the fact that there are no speech marks, the only thing to define when another character is speaking is the new line. By the end of the book it doesn’t matter as you get used to it (or at least I did) easily enough but it is a weirdly disconcerting thing to not see the punctuation that you’re used to. I understand why she did it. The majority of the book (for me anyway) was about the moments in life where you don’t feel the need to say anything and you can just think. It’s about your story and getting somewhere eventually. Which is what happens with the book, you know that Etta is going to get to the Ocean eventually but there’s no rush in getting there.
Why I read this:
I was trying to persuade myself that with my new job I didn’t have the time I have previously to read and therefore what I should definitely not do was look at other reading challenges. I’ve done the PopSugar one every year since it started and enjoy their range. There’s no need to look at any others… ooh Read Harder. I’ve heard a bit about that.
My sister wisely joined in on advising me that I couldn’t do it and while we were talking about the different categories in PopSugar and Read Harder she went “oh 60+ female protagonist. You should read this” and pulled Etta and Otto etc off her bookcase and handed it to me. At which point it was decided I would do both challenges.
I really liked this book and found it a beautiful read but don’t think I can truthfully say I enjoyed it. It’s really good and I’m glad I read it but it’s not one I would read again.
Would I recommend it?
Yes and no. If you’re after a different kind of book and you like tales about people then I would suggest it. But it’s not one I would immediately suggest to people.
Popsugar: A book that you borrowed/given as a gift;
Read Harder: Female protagonist over 60
Please leave a comment if you have read this book and let me know what you think. Like I said I really liked it but I didn’t enjoy it.
If you haven’t read it but this review makes you tempted then please let me know that too. It would be lovely to hear.