Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Review: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Book cover of The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
When I picked up this book to start reading it, the receipt fell out from when I bought it - November 2013. Good Lord. I actually remember buying it, it was when the five of us met up in Leeds, but I had no idea it was that long ago. Two and a half years, guys. Anyway, for some reason the memory of Laura telling me that 'it's really good but you probably won't like it,' has stuck firmly in my head. Actually, come to think of it, I really associate this book with Laura in any event. Why is that? Why Laura? Does she remind me of slightly grubby American gunslingers? Answers on a postcard please.

Oh, and go read Laura's review. Considering I just called her grubby. 

Plot summary: Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. Across 1000 miles of Oregon desert his assassins, the notorious Eli and Charlie Sisters, ride - fighting, shooting, and drinking their way to Sacramento. But their prey isn't an easy mark, the road is long and bloody, and somewhere along the path Eli begins to question what he does for a living - and whom he does it for. The Sisters Brothers pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable ribald tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of 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.

At least Laura wasn't totally right. How can I put this? Whilst I don't dislike this book, I can see why she thought I might. I can't really put my finger on why, except there's something distinctly non-Hanna-ish about The Sisters Brothers. Sigh. This isn't going to be a very helpful review, is it?

It's not what I expected. I think I was under the impression that it would be a quite dry and quite formal, general Western. It's not; it's actually quite light-hearted. We follow the adventures of George and Lenny Eli and Charlie as they attempt to track down the next in a long list of men they've been instructed to assassinate. Until about two third of the way through, they just kind of bounce from event to event, from town to town. There isn't really an overarcing plot at that point, just a sort of situation.

When The Point became clear though, I thought it was a really interesting plot point, and one that I hadn't seen done before. Not that I read a lot of Westerns, admittedly. I do wish that less time had been spent on the bouncing around, which felt a little repetitive and caused me to lose interest quite quickly, and more time on that particular aspect. It seemed to be over before it had even really begun and then I didn't feel it was dealt with properly.

There's a definite Of Mice and Men feel to it though, and it's way too obvious to have been unintentional. Two brothers, one of whom is smaller, slyer and clearly in control and the other is larger and dopily naive? Because of that I assumed that it would either end in exactly the same way, or the direct opposite (if you know what I mean). Maybe that's why I didn't enjoy the story so much - because I thought I knew where it was going. Also, I hated Steinbeck in school. That helps.

I liked both Eli and Charlie, I suppose. They have very distinct personalities, but they do seem like caricatures. You could argue that that was intentional, but I'm not so sure. I would have preferred a bit more subtlety and fewer attempts at humour. Was it meant to be funny, by the way? The blurb implies that it was but I didn't really see it.

I actually meant to write a lovely, sparkly review that would really show that darn Laura *shakes fist* but it turns out she actually knows me pretty well. I didn't dislike this book at all, but I have to admit that I didn't think there was a great deal to write home about either. It was... fine, and I don't regret the time I spent reading The Sisters Brothers. That said, I don't think I'd particularly feel the need to reread it either.

    Go read Laura's review at Devouring Texts. Is it really only Laura who's read this!? I thought loads of us were reading it at one point!


  1. Nope, I read it and loved it! I don't know if I'd reread it - it's un-Ellieish too tbh, I'm not exactly a regular reader of western noir with a dark comedy touch - but it was a runaway favourite the year I read it. I never connected the brothers with George and Lennie's story either, that's an interesting parallel to make. Shame it didn't fulfil its promise for you - but then again, it wouldn't be a shared Ellie-Hanna experience if things didn't pan out this way, would it? :P

    1. I went and found my review. I know you like to link them up sometimes!

  2. I read this and had pretty much the same reaction as you (this seems to happen a lot!)

    "It was... fine, and I don't regret the time I spent reading The Sisters Brothers. That said, I don't think I'd particularly feel the need to reread it either." pretty much sums it up for me too. I think maybe it just wasn't quite for me?

  3. I hated Steinbeck at school too, I always get a disbelieving look when I tell people I didn't feel moved by Lennie's story. I don't know if I should try and re-read now I'm older (and wiser?) but meh. Anyway, I guess I'm not really drawn by westerns either, though I do love the cover.

  4. I am sooooo behind on blog posts but lookit! I'm famous! I don't even remember telling you you probably wouldn't like it but I'm really glad that I know you this well AND that you associate me with grubby American gunslingers, I think... Maybe... :/ haha


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