Thursday, 22 November 2012
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
It is 1851, and a lust for gold has swept the American frontier. Two brothers - the notorious Eli and Charlie Sisters - are on the road to California, following the trail of an elusive prospector, Hermann Kermit Warm. On this odyssey Eli and his brother cross paths with a remarkable cast of characters - losers, cheaters and ne'er-do-wells from all stripes of life - and Eli begins to question what he does for a living, and whom he does it for. (I don't normally copy summaries, but this one is perfect).
I went into this book expecting to enjoy it because of all the hype around it and the positive reviews I have seen, but I didn't expect to enjoy the Western element as much as I did. I've never read a Western before and I'm not American so I was surprised at how natural the reading experience was. I loved the grimy, cockroach infested hotels the brothers stayed in with prostitutes at the ready and men having shoot-outs in the dust. I loved the idea of burying gold dust and busting mafia-style crime rings. I have some adventure in my spirit and anyone who does will enjoy the Western elements of The Sisters Brothers. DeWitt balanced all of this rip-roaring, swash-buckling adventure by also showing the harshness of life on the frontier in 1851, not shying away from the nastier elements and this gave the novel some much-needed grit and realism.
I remember there was a lot of fuss about this book being included on the Booker short-list in 2011, with critics complaining that it's not literary enough. But I disagree; The Sisters Brothers is genre fiction, but it also transcends the genre and has a lot to say about human existence. Whereas Charlie is more of a straight-forward villain, Eli is a sympathetic character who has drifted into the killing business under the influence his big brother. He may be a contract killer, but he doesn't think much of money and dreams of giving it all up to open his own shop (Charlie wants to be the kind of gangster who gets to run a whole town). He's a romantic who falls in love easily and who won't abandon his horse when it is injured. Eli is the heart of the novel and through him DeWitt manages to make the book both funny, adventurous and sad. As the reader can see that Eli is essentially a good guy, all the way through the book you are rooting for him to be able to have the courage to leave Charlie and do something just for himself. He has some big disappointments towards the end of the novel and I was genuinely sad for him. I wasn't expecting Eli to be the character he was and it made the book so much more powerful and, dare I say it, literary.
The Sisters Brothers was one of those books I bought because it was on a short-list and because plenty of people seemed to enjoy reading it. I'm glad I did, because it's something I would never have picked out for myself and I thoroughly enjoyed every page of it. Recommended even for Western newbies like me.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2011
My Edition: Granta, 2012
Score: 4.5 out of 5
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This is one of my favourite reads from last year, glad to hear you enjoyed it too, Sam. The only other "western" I've read was True Grit which I read as a child but maybe I should attempt Lonesome Dove one of these days!ReplyDelete
I feel like I could attempt more Westerns now, something I never thought I would say!Delete
Awesome review Sam! Growing up in the Western U.S. (California), I love Western-themed literature. This sounds really good.ReplyDelete
What Westerns would you recommend? You don't see many of them here.Delete
This is so funny - I'm writing a 'my best book of 2012' post tmrw for the Little Words round-up and I have chosen this! The shortlist was pretty short, considering how few current books I read though :)ReplyDelete
Great minds think alike Lyndsay :)Delete
I saw this reviewed on the TV Book Club and thought that it looked good. I've noticed it on the shelves at the library, I think I'll be borrowing it soon!ReplyDelete
I hope you get a chance to read and enjoy it as much as I did, Joanne.Delete
I'm glad you liked it! I was kind of on the fence about it but I think maybe it was my mood at the time. I was on the waiting list at the library so I *had* to read it when it was available whether I was ready for it or not. I liked it enough, though, to want to see what else deWitt writes in the future.ReplyDelete
Hmm, I was on the fence initially but I started to really enjoy it as I got more into the story. It was one of those books where I only realised how much I loved it once I finished it and thought back on it. I too will be reading anything deWitt writes in the future.Delete
This was on my radar to read because of its Booker nomination but I thought I was probably not that interested in a western so I never got round to reading it, yet again Sam you have added to my must read list. I did read Shane and The Canyon by Jack Shaefer many years ago and seem to recall I did rather enjoy reading those westerns so time to give the western another try I think.ReplyDelete
I don't usually enjoy Booker nominated books, so this one was a really pleasant surprise. Thanks for recommending the Jack Shaefer book, I'll see if I can get hold of a copy :)Delete
I picked up this book ata first because of the amazing cover design and odd title, but I never ended up reading it. Maybe one of these days!ReplyDelete
The cover is gorgeous, isn't it? Hope you get a chance to read it one day.Delete
I loved this book so so so so much! Like, RIDICULOUSLY more than I was expecting to! I agree entirely about it transcending genre, too- the Western bits were definitely fun, but it's ALL about, like, humans and stuff. So yeah, glad you liked it!ReplyDelete
I didn't expect to love it as much as I did either. Which made enjoying it all the better :)Delete
Gosh every seems to say good things about this book Sam. I do need to read it soon as I have a copy with me. I'm not a Western gal as well (although I spent my early childhood watching Magnificent Seven and Lone Ranger!) but I think it transcends more than being a western novel. Maybe it should have won the Booker!ReplyDelete
I didn't even watch the spaghetti Western films as a child so I really wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as it did. 2011 was a great Booker year in my opinion, I also loved Jamrach's Menagerie.Delete
I loved this book too and I agree that Eli is a great character. I read it around this time last year, just in time for it to make my best of the year list! Like you I would probably never have read it if it hadn't been for all the hype, as I would never have expected to enjoy a Western so much.ReplyDelete
I think it might be making my best of the year list too :)Delete
I enjoyed this book too. Although I couldn't quite make myself like the characters, not even Eli, I did get caught up in the adventure. I agree that it was literary because it had quite a bit of depth to it, despite its humor and its setting.ReplyDelete
I really liked Eli, he had such a gentle side to him that was completely unexpected given his job. What stopped you from warming to him?Delete
Ugh, I HATE when people act as though genre fiction is not worthy of awards. I won't get on my soap box here, but ALL FICTION IS SOME SORT OF GENRE FICTION.ReplyDelete
I'm glad you really enjoyed this one, too. I did it as an audiobook and the narrator was excellent.
Please get on your soap box because I am in total agreement with you! I don't care what genre a book comes from, I will read and love it if it is a good book.Delete
I live in the Western US, but don't enjoy Westerns very much. However, this one sounds better than the typical, formulaic Western - and much better written! I'll have to give it a try.ReplyDelete
The Searchers by Alan LeMay is an older Western, but I read it a few years ago and really enjoyed it.
I don't know if it's formulaic as I have nothing to compare it too, but it was definitely a fun read. Thanks for recommending The Searchers, I'll keep an eye out for it :)Delete
I've been looking forward to reading this one. I do like some westerns, like Louis L'Amour books (my dad had many of them and I lived far from kids my age). Summer boredom meant I read just about anything in the house. I have a feeling I will like this book regardless though.ReplyDelete
I've not heard of Louis L'Amour, but I'm going to look it up. I remember long summers reading everything in the house too.Delete
Me too! Me too!ReplyDelete
Here was my post on it: http://wellreadfish.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-sisters-brothers.html
I love when I unexpectedly enjoy a book.
Thanks for linking to your review, I'm off to check it out :)Delete
Got this as a Xmas present from my daughter last year.ReplyDelete
Great review and you're so right that the book transcends the genre and is so much more. It's impressive that not only was deWitt able to write a book that's funny, adventurous, and sad, but that it could be all three things at once. It takes skills to make a scene both hilarious and heartbreaking at once.ReplyDelete
This sounds like a good one. Just the title alone caught my attention.ReplyDelete
Charmaine Smith (For more on Alaska Fishing Lodges)
This book can be read superficially and be thoroughly enjoyed. However, this book can be read and analyzed as a piece of literature and be thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the characters, tone, pacing, and themes. It may seem simplistic to a casual reader, but I feel it is full of lessons and truths. I hope this author writes more novels soon.ReplyDelete
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