The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for giving up on your dreams


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Giving up on your dreams

Cure: Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

We all accept that dreams can – and probably will – be shattered in life. But there are some dreams that one should hold on to whatever the cost – be it swimming with dolphins, learning Japanese, or building a folly in one's back garden. If you are someone who has a sense that you've let go of something important but you can't quite recall what it was, read Emma Hooper's beguiling first novel. It will prod you to smoke out that once-cherished plan and reinstate it on your list of things to do before you die.

Etta is 83 when she wakes up one morning and decides it's time to go and see the sea – something she has wanted to do ever since her pregnant sister left landlocked Saskatchewan for a convent on the East Coast. While her husband Otto sleeps, Etta packs a rucksack, grabs a rifle and heads off, lured across the 2,000 miles by her lost sister's cherished letters, full of tales of swimming in the ocean and eating the lobster that crawled almost on to their tables.

Etta is strong, having lived her life on a farm, and she happily rolls out her blanket to sleep under the stars and bounds up boulders, despite her age. She does not court attention; but inevitably attracts admirers along the way who, inspired by her journey, give her trinkets and notes to take with her. She also picks up a coyote, James, who talks to her companionably, and even finds her fresh meat to eat when she can't catch her own dinner. As she walks, we learn in flashbacks of her happy marriage to Otto and her more complex love for their mutual friend Russell who has adored her all his life.

Of the two men, it is Russell who comes looking for her, while Otto decides he has to give her the space to do it alone. Go walking with Etta, and understand that your dream is yours alone; and that, if the moment is right to follow that dream at last, your loved ones will understand.