The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

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The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: A cowboy noir style novel, set against the California gold rush, full of dark humour and almost farcical events that also mines the emotions of sadness. Saddle up and enjoy.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: May 2011
Publisher: Granta
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1847083180

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Invariably, the Booker Prize longlist contains one book that is more on the side of light reading than the more worthy and overtly literary fare that it is usually associated with. 'The Sisters Brothers' is the 2011 choice. Set in the US in 1851, it details the adventures of two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, who are hired hands for a mysterious boss known only as the Commodore. Narrated by Eli, who has slightly more of a conscience than his older brother, the story starts with the Commodore ordering a hit, for reasons unknown, on a certain Hermann Kermit Warm.

The boys set out from their Oregon City base to Warm's known location in gold rush fever, San Francisco, but these two attract disaster, despite their feared reputation as gunslingers in the Wild West. There's plenty of comedy both of the more farcical, slapstick variety but particularly in the constant bickering between the more thoughtful Eli and his focussed older brother. It's hard not to like Eli, even though for all his seeming moral questioning of their way of life and attempts to treat people a little better, in the end he usually ends up reverting to his more psychopathic character traits.

The style of the book is that of short chapters and so, particularly as the boys head West, the pace of the story gallops along rather faster than Eli's rather tired horse, Tub. It's a book that will have you wanting to read 'just one more short chapter' before you put it down for the night. They encounter a breathtaking array of colourful characters on the way, and everyone is on the make in one way, shape or form.

Talking of the trusty Tub, there is one note of caution for animal lovers, and particularly the more equine-loving readers, it is only fair to note that there are some potentially upsetting horse-related events later in the book which may cause the more sensitive reader some distress. So just be warned. There's also a fair bit of human suffering too, but these were hard times and if you are going to read a book set in that time, you can expect a certain amount of that.

However, these were tough times, and this is nowhere more apparent than when the boys eventually end up in San Francisco. The shock of this urban sprawl to two boys more used to the plains is nicely drawn out. It is at this point that the story starts to develop a darker element which seems to jar with the earlier jaunty adventures. It does, though allow the reader to get to see more of the love and devotion of Eli towards his brother. Perhaps the story rather peters out somewhat towards the end, like a horse at the end of a long ride, but it's a hugely enjoyable read. There's dark humour and genuine sadness in places as well in the lives of these two unlikely heroes.

It's hard not to like a book about two brothers with the name of Sisters. Thankfully, the book more than lives up to its excellent title.

The Bookbag offers an appreciative 'yee-hah' to the good people of Granta for sending this our way.

For more fraternal fun, then we also very much enjoyed The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen which is very much in the same spirit. Last year's Booker long list book in the 'just a darned good read' category was The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner which is also full of crisp, funny dialogue.

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Buy The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt at

Booklists.jpg The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt is in the Man Booker Prize 2011.


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