Emma Hooper is a natural storyteller and describes her novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James as“A love letter to my homeland, the Canadian prairies.” The book may follow in the footsteps of 2014’s big debut novels ‘The Miniaturist’ and ‘Elizabeth is Missing’.
“One day Otto wakes to find his elderly wife Etta has gone on a pilgrimage to see the sea for the very first time, walking hundreds of miles across Canada to get there. Although her reasons are unexplained, it probably has something to do with the beloved sister who died near the sea during Etta’s childhood.
James is both her sister’s stillborn son and the talking coyote who keeps Etta company on her trek. Otto’s best friend Russell is as devastated as Otto to find Etta gone.
Both men have loved her ever since they were teenagers and she became their village school teacher. The story flashes back and forth between the present and the past, in particular Otto’s experiences during the First World War while Russell, disabled by a childhood farming accident, stayed behind with Etta.
In the present, Otto tries to fill the long, lonely days by cooking Etta’s favourite recipes and, when Etta’s cross-country pilgrimage makes her a local celebrity and her photograph appears in the local newspaper, Otto bulk buys the paper, cuts out her photograph and fashions papier-mache animals from the leftovers which brings its own celebrity.”
Hooper moved to England in 2004, and wrote the novel around lecturing at Bath Spa University and “a full-time gig” as a violist doing touring and session work. She has played WOMAD Festival with Peter Gabriel and Glastonbury with various indie rock and folk bands, and also plays the viola in The Stringbeans. A solo music project, named “Waitress for the Bees”, involves singing, playing the accordion, glockenspiel and a musical saw.