Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Sisters Brothers

Title: The Sisters Brothers

Author: Patrick deWitt

Number of pages: 272

Started: 3 September 2011

Finished: 6 September 2011

Opening words:

I was sitting outside the Commodore’s mansion, waiting for my brother Charlie to come out with news of the job. It was threatening to snow and I was cold and for want of something to do I studied Charlie’s new horse, Nimble. My new horse was called Tub. We did not believe in naming horses but they were given to us as partial payment for the last job with the names intact, so that was that. Our unnamed previous horses had been immolated, so it was not as though we did not need these new ones but I felt we should have been given money to purchase horses of our own choosing, horses without histories and habits and names they expected to be addressed by. I was very fond of my previous horse and lately had been experiencing visions while I slept of his death, his kicking, burning legs, his hot-popping eyeballs. He could cover sixty miles in a day like a gust of wind and I never laid a hand on him except to stroke him or clean him, and I tried not to think of him burning up in that barn but if the vision arrived uninvited how was I to guard against it? Tub was a healthy enough animal but would have been better suited to some other, less ambitious owner. He was portly and low-backed and could not travel more than fifty miles in a day. I was often forced to whip him, which some men do not mind doing and which in fact some enjoy doing, but which I did not like to do; and afterward he, Tub, believed me cruel and thought to himself, Sad life, sad life.

Plot summary:

Oregon, 1851. Eli and Charlie Sisters, notorious professional killers, are on their way to California to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm. On the way, the brothers have a series of unsettling and violent experiences in the Darwinian landscape of Gold Rush America. Charlie makes money and kills anyone who stands in his way; Eli doubts his vocation and falls in love. And they bicker a lot. Then they get to California, and discover that Warm is an inventor who has come up with a magical formula, which could make all of them very rich. What happens next is utterly gripping, strange and sad.

What I thought:

Western novels are not my normal reading, and I am not sure how typical of this genre this book was, but it was well written and amusing. It was the story of two brothers who made their living by carrying out the “errands” of people who wanted “problems” sorted. Given that the very mention of their names put fear into those they met, you can probably fill in the blanks on the kind of errands they carried out.

This book did include a number of fights and some somewhat gory medical related issues (but I do have a very low threshold for such things), but was also about the characters and how the brothers in particular justified their lives of crime. It was an amusing read and the narrator, the younger brother, Eli, was an endearing character and worked well as the story teller.

This was a good book and I am pleased that it made it through to the shortlist.


Sarah said...

Crikey! You've been busy. Reading and blogging like a dervish :)

I haven't been grabbed by the Booker contenders this year, but you've sold me on this one.

The distinctive understated style of the opening excerpt is appealing, and I am intrigued by your plot hints...

Random Reflections said...

Sarah - yes I think I got a bit carried away on the reading front!

The Bookers were very mixed and I don't feel terribly inspired to gushingly recommend any of them. Give The Sisters Brothers a go though. It was definitely one of the better ones.

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I've seen good reviews on this book, but the title's always come across as way too gimmicky. I'm glad to read that this book didn't disappoint you, and very probably, in the near future (relatively speaking, of course), I will pick it up. However, if it weren't for the Booker shortlist, I would have probably quite blissfully given it a miss.