Sunday, 26 February 2012


I just finished reading The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt.

I'm a little ashamed to say that I resisted finding out more about this book for a long time because its lack of an apostrophe in the title bothered me immensely. I felt a bit ridiculous when I discovered that it's about brothers named Charlie and Eli Sisters.

At the time of the gold rush, the infamous professional killers Charlie and Eli are sent from their home in Oregon to San Fransisco to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm, who has gravely offended their boss. Along the way, Eli tackles many difficult questions that he has about his life and comes to some unpleasant conclusions about them.

It's a fascinating book. Very strange, it's not quite like anything I've read before, but I couldn't stop reading it until close to the end (I'll get to that in a minute). Even after I'd dealt with my issues about the title, I resisted the book because it was a Western, and after stuff to do with wars, cowboys are my next least-favourite thing. Honestly, I just switch off when I start hearing about either of them, but I was convinced to read this book by the TV Book Club (a terrible programme that picks out some excellent books), and I'm glad I did.

It's an unflinching portrait of life back then - there's a particularly, shall we say, memorable scene involving a horse and a spoon that will haunt me - but it never feels gratuitous. And the relationship between Charlie and Eli is so realistic that at times it's quite troubling to read.

The ending disappointed me, though, and I can't quite figure out why that is. The story seems to be over a long time before the book is. I think the problem might be that the majority of the book is about the brothers on their journey to San Fransisco to find Warm. Finding and killing him would be the natural conclusion of the book, but this isn't what happens. I won't spoil it for you, but a whole bunch of other stuff happens, and even though I can see why the author's chosen to do this, I think it spoils the ending somewhat.

Despite this, I would still recommend this book, even to people who are put off by the mention of Westerns. In fact, I would recommend it to them especially, because sometimes it's nice to be proven wrong. Not often. In fact, very rarely, but this is one of those times that it was.

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