The enchanting secret lives of old people: Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Recommended, Writing, Writing Thoughts


Etta sets off very early on a journey across Canada to see the sea. She is old, as is her husband Otto who waits for her, and their friend Russell who follows her. They have all known each other and loved each other for most of their lives, but now they are very old they come to the point where there are things they have to do. As Etta continues out East with James, the coyote who has adopted her, memories of the three friends interweave to tell their wonderfully human stories.

I have nothing that I would change about this book. It was completely magnificent, wonderfully human – a lovely mixture of the mystery of other people and the total knowingness of other people too. I was totally enraptured by the characters, by their kindness, love, passions, confusions, thoughts, memories and ideas. I would heartily recommend this to anyone with a heart.

The language is wonderful, for one thing. We see Otto, Russell and Etta’s points of view, and all are told simply and clearly but manage to maintain a slight mystery at the same time. We get to know them well but not quite that well – as perhaps is often true with older people. It’s hard to know someone completely when there are eighty or so years of them to know.

I think old people are fascinating and books about them are rare (to me – perhaps I read the wrong books) but this is just marvellous. Each of the characters seems to have come to conclusions about themselves that they are happy with which sets a very different scene for their desires and ambitions than our usual younger passionate characters who are desperate for justice or to prove themselves or whatever.

Though we do see their younger selves through their memories, which runs as a plot at the same time as the current one, opening it up further as we understand more about the characters and their relationships to one another.

I also like how the characters address animals and objects very naturally throughout the book, and sometimes they answer back, and it’s very natural. I think we do that a lot, and it’s just rather a nice thing amongst the text.

I’m getting emotional even reviewing this book. It is utterly beautiful and a triumph, Emma Hooper, and you should go and read it.

Thanks to Netgalley for my ARC.

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