Sunday, 18 December 2011

Book Review: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

BookThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, Echo, 2011, 325 pages.

Source: Purchased.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn't share his brother's appetite for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else. But their prey isn't an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm's gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living–and whom he does it for.

With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters–losers, cheaters, and ne'er-do-wells from all stripes of life–and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.

My Thoughts:
I can't say that I've ever read a western before, but this one looked so interesting, people have been raving about it, it won all of those awards, and I love to read books by Canadian authors.  The cover also intrigued me - I love its simplicity and how striking it is.  Even the title captured my attention.

I found myself racing through this book.  I honestly wasn't sure what to expect but it was compelling, interesting, well-paced and intelligent.  So many reviews I have read compare this book to other books and authors and a statement on the genre... I don't know anything about that, I just know that this was an enjoyable, page turning read.

This is the story of Eli and Charlie Sisters, brothers who make their living as guns for hire in the 1850s during the gold rush in the Old West.  The story is told by Eli, the younger and more sensitive of the two brothers. 

One of the things that surprised me about this book was how intelligent and well spoken the characters are.  The language is fairly formal, not what I expected.  I also loved following Eli's thoughts and his discussions with his brother.  Eli is fairly self aware and questions many things about his life, what he wants and how they make their living.

The book is graphic and violent, but somehow it just fits.  The violence is described, but not dwelt upon, the story moves on.  This is story about violent people, hired killers, and what they do, along with some of the brutal circumstances of life at that time.  Perhaps because it is all described so matter of factly, it doesn't seem overwhelming.

There is also the wry sense of humour in this book.  Like the violence, the humour is there, a huge part of the book, but not dwelt upon, but it also helps to lighten the tone of what could be a very dark book.  It also really adds to the human element of the book. 

And I think that's what I really liked, the human element.  The Sisters brothers are presented with their human flaws, the terror of their name implied and understated.  The supporting characters also added a lot, painting a picture of the world at the time.  I don't know if this was accurate or not, but I certainly enjoyed it and could barely put the book down.

Here is the book trailer from YouTube:


  1. I thought this book was great. One of the few major award winners that is accessible to the average reader.

  2. I agree with you!! That's exactly how I feel about this book.

  3. The cover caught my attention . I'm one who does not reads books about the wild wild west. The Sisters Brothers was a exception. It certainly isn't your typical shoot em up story. I best describe the book as a western themed Pulp Fiction.


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