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Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

I am ever so slightly embarrassed to admit this, but we've all been there, haven't we - bought a gift for a friend that we secretly want for ourselves? I was struggling to think of anything my Mum might like for Christmas so in desperation turned to the book that was pretty much at the top of my own wishlist at the time, The Sisters Brothers. We have similar tastes so I felt fairly confident she'd enjoy it, and there was of course the added bonus that she could pass it on to me when she'd finished! Unfortunately I didn't account for the fact that Mum's TBR is almost as big as mine and it took her about 6 months to get round to reading her Christmas present. I should have just given her a bottle of perfume and bought the book for myself!

After all that anticipation, it might not be that surprising that I was initially disappointed when reading the first 1/3 of The Sisters Brothers. I had so many preconceptions of what the book would be that were just plain wrong. I mean, I only had to cast an eye over the amazing cover for my mind to subconsciously make the snap decision that this would be one of the best books I'd ever read. I then went on to read countless reviews in the press and online that drew all sorts of parallels to such varying references as the Coen brothers, Cormac McCarthy, Charles Bukowski, Jim Jarmusch...to name but a few that I have randomly selected from a spot check on Goodreads just now! My head was in a spin with all of this and I had somehow decided that The Sisters Brothers would be a fast-paced, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, rock-and-roll kind of tale of outlaws and the underbelly of America during the California Gold Rush. What I was really hoping for was to read something similar to Stone Junction by Jim Dodge but without all the supernatural bits. How wrong I was!

Eli Sisters is a professional hitman who works with his brother Charlie to assassinate & exact revenge upon anyone and everyone for their enigmatic boss The Commodore. As the book starts we see them set out on yet another mission to track down and kill one Hermann Kermit Warm. The Gold Rush is in full swing and their path is paved with all manner of setbacks and scoundrels. But the job is also complicated by Eli's uncertain morality. His conscience is tiring of killing and he longs to settle for a quiet life with a nice lady. Will this assignment be the last for the Sisters brothers?

As I have already suggested above, it took me a while to get into this book as there is not a great deal of action in the first few chapters. Yes, Eli & Charlie get up to all kinds of mischief (read: outrageous acts of violence) and meet some interesting characters but none of it really drives the plot forward very much. These initial scenes primarily serve to illustrate the relationship between the brothers and allow the reader to get to know Eli properly as he tries to find love and struggles to manage his increasingly disabled horse. DeWitt's prose is very precise and measured which contrasts nicely with the shocking acts of the brothers, but didn't make me feel like I was having very much fun reading it. I think some of the humour that other reviewers have picked up on was lost on me as well, even though I do generally like my humour a bit dark.

Once I passed the halfway point, though, something clicked and I really started enjoying it. Eli is bizarrely loveable in comparison to his psychopathic brother and you cannot help but feel for him when he is torn between his desire to leave the life of crime behind and his desire to stay loyal to Charlie. Their relationship is pitched perfectly. And as the plot picked up momentum and their mission was drawing to a close I really struggled to put the book down.  So in the end I really enjoyed this book and would definitely read more by this author in the future - I will just steer clear of the hype next time to avoid forming too many preconceptions!

As a little aside - if anybody can recommend me something to read that is actually similar to Jim Dodge's Stone Junction I would be very grateful!


  1. This sounds like an interesting read, I think the problem is when we wait so long so for something we can over build it up. Glad you liked it in the end though.

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

  2. It was interesting Lainy and I suppose in the end I would recommend it, it's just interesting how reading too many reviews beforehand can colour your expectations of what a book will be!


  3. I read this novel a while ago. From what I recall it left me feeling, for want of a better word, blank.

    I agree, the prose are measured and concise, which does contrast nicely to the extreme conditions the brothers find themselves in. My most prevailing notion of the novel is that Eli frustrated me - he was akin to a skeleton, there seemed to be no true flesh to him. No back story, not reasons other than what I found to be self-depreciation for his languid thought process and rather untimely desire to find love, settle down and become self-sufficient. The conflict between escaping his life and his loyalty to Charlie was in my view the only interesting relationship point in the novel. I’d have liked a more interaction with Morris, or even Warm as, after a while, I felt rather trapped by the monotonous back and forth between Charlie and Eli.

    Without expectation, especially without the jazzy cover, I may have really enjoyed the slow paced, touching account of Eli. As it was I still enjoyed it and I think De Witt may mature well as a writer, but I was ever so slightly disappointed with the flatness of what should have been the epic conclusion.


  4. Just finished the book The Sisters Brothers and wow! The Sisters Brothers is a novel with such a strong voice - dark, comic and filled with phrases that will clatter around in my brain for their heartbreaking honesty. A melancholic sort of tale, rendered expertly, capturing the precise beauty that is language and experience. Highly recommend!

    Charmaine Smith (More about - Customizable Maui Wedding Packages)