The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt
So I finally got round to reading ‘The Sisters Brothers’ by Patrick de Witt, I bought it last August after first noticing it in book shops when it was shortlisted for the Booker prize. The reason that I know it was last August (apart from being a geek), is because it was the first book I bought for my kindle. I don’t’ really know why after purchase it took me so long to actually read it.
The Sisters Brothers is seemingly a US novel, but its author is Canadian (hence the eligibility for the Booker), the fact the author now lives in the United States comes through quite strongly in the writing. The novel it is set in 1850’s California in the main where two brothers are hired to track down a man to retrieve information that he has ‘stolen’ and then dispatch of him. The brothers are essentially hired killers, they are good at their jobs, and their reputation precedes them on their travels. The brothers are Eli and Charlie Sisters.
The novel is narrated by Eli, the role in which he plays in this duo is very much the underling. Charlie is older, more ruthless, makes most of the decisions and is the main contact between the brothers and ‘The Commodore’ – the brother’s employer. Charlie takes a greater cut of the money the brothers earn, he is also a drunk. Eli is quieter, more thoughtful it would seem; throughout the book you have the feeling that this really isn’t what Eli wants to do but has been led into this lifestyle and cannot get out. One of the main reasons for him feeling trapped is the love he has for his brother. Eli, unlike Charlie, is not an angry man by rule, but his temper can easily be flared in situations when his brother is under threat. Killing for Eli is not his job, it is not easy as he is surprisingly moralistic, it is however sometimes a necessity for the preservation of his brothers and indeed his own life.
The 1850’s United States described is a tough place to live. The gold rush is in full flow and the brothers travel the same path as many prospectors. They meet many people on their journey and it is these interludes that make up the first part of the book leading to the meeting of Hermann Warm (the ‘thief’ they are after) also a prospector. The book then changes tack and the realisation of the full story follows.
I very much enjoyed this book, it is very well written as you would expect from a novel that won and was nominated for several awards. The dialogue is snappy, the plot moves along at reasonable rate but not so much as that you feel lost, it was also funny in parts. The setting is great, the peripheral characters are nicely developed and I was never at a point where I was unsure who was who. What the books great strength is however, is how likable the narrator is. Despite knowing who he is and what he does, you cannot help but like Eli Sisters. The way he is with his brother, his horse and a number of characters through the book help to provide the reader with a reason for compassion for this young man. Despite his failings you wish for Eli (at the very least, if not his brother also) to be ok, for his life to change for the better and to hope that the book will lead to an eventual change of fortune for the brothers. A hope that they and their lives can change, that they will not meet an untimely (and no doubt grisly) end in the same way as many of their victims do.
I would whole heartedly recommend this book and I will keep an eye out for anything else from the same author. It did at times fleetingly remind me of ‘Vernon God Little’ by DBC Pierre not in its content but in its tone and use of dark humour. If you have read that and enjoyed it, then I would suggest you would like this too; I might be wrong though!
I have been thinking more about what I may write about in the future. I think short reviews such as this will definitely be a major part of what I would like to write about but I also plan to procrastinate about e-readers, book group and fiction & non-fiction. I also plan to write about authors that I particularly love: Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan and Kate Atkinson to name a few.