2011 Booker Prize

The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt

The Sisters Brothers Short listed for 2011 Booker Prize

Five words from the blurb: Old West, brothers, humour, melancholy, violent

Lonesome Dove is the only Western that I’ve read and although I enjoyed it, I found it a bit too long. The Sisters Brothers has a similar style to Lonesome Dove, but it is like a tightly honed version. All the excessive flabby bits have been removed to leave a well plotted, entertaining tale set during the American Gold Rush.

Eli and Charlie Sisters are brothers with very different personalities. Charlie will do anything to make money – killing anyone who gets in his way; whilst Eli wants to pack in their violent lifestyle and settle down with a wife. Their different outlook on life generates a string of gently humoured arguments, giving a warm banter that made me smile throughout.

‘I don’t like it,’ he said. ‘I think it’s foolish.’
‘Think what you like. Our Dr. Watts says my teeth will never rot if I use the brush dependably.’
Charlie remained skeptical. He told me I looked like a rabid beast with my mouth full of foam. I countered that I would prefer to look like one for minutes each day rather than smell like one all through my life, and this marked the end of our toothbrush conversation.

The brothers are hired to kill a powerful man and set off (on their less than perfect horses!) in search of their victim. They have numerous adventures on the way, but the main focus of the book remains the relationship between the brothers. I didn’t particularly like either brother, but found their banter endlessly entertaining.

The writing was simple, but engaging and I flew through the book in a couple of sittings. My only criticism is that this managed to make the Booker long list. It is an enjoyable read, but apart from a few pages about what makes a man “great” this book has little literary merit.

It is an enjoyable read and the perfect introduction to Westerns, but I’m hoping it doesn’t make the Booker short list.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

deWitt’s storytelling is head and shoulders above a lot of his better reviewed contemporaries. Book Atlas

…..even when the story becomes more contemplative you can only take the notion of a hired gunslinger with a heart so far. Kevin From Canada

…it was slick, hilariously funny, inevitably sad, and very quirky, as well as being extremely strong visually. Gaskella

26 replies on “The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt”

This does sound fun, whether It’s of a high enough standard for a literary list I’ve no idea & at the end of the day, not much interest it seems to be a term that can be as much a curse as a blessing..

Parrish, I think you may be right about it being a curse for this book. I wonder how many Western fans will be (wrongly) put off reading this book when they see the Booker sticker?

I’m glad you enjoyed it Jackie. Ultimately I agree, it won’t have the literary legs to go further, but the characters of Charlie and Eli (especially Eli) were wonderful, and it resonated as a literary counterpart to many of my longtime movie & TV favourites and that’s why I adored it so much.

Annabel, I didn’t recognise anything I’d seen on TV which shows how little interest I have in this genre normally. I agree that Charlie and Eli were great characters – I think I’ll remember them for a long time to come.

I’ve just finished this and I loved it – well written, funny, dark, quirky and a melange of the Coen and Blues Brothers! No, it’s not a Booker contender but somehow I don’t think the author expected it would be – great entertainment and it would make a fabulous film.

Teresa, I can’t imagine the author expecting this to be Booker long listed either – I bet that was a bit of a shock for him!

I agree that it would make a great film – I think I’ve heard rumours that it is going to be made into one. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it does. 🙂

I honestly have no interest in the “Western” genre, but after reading your review and Annabel’s review, I think this might be the one book that pays homage to those roots that I would enjoy. It does sound like an awful lot of fun!

Steph, I’m no expert, but I think this would be a good Western to start with. It is a lot quicker and easier to read than my first stab at the genre!

Really liked this one too and was very surprised to see it make the Booker longlist… I think it’s refreshing to see books like this being associated with the Booker, though you’re probably right, I can’t see it getting any further, and really it probably shouldn’t… A great book all the same ( and thanks for putting me in your ‘thoughts of other bloggers’ bit! )

Book Atlas, It is nice to see genre books on the Booker long list – I just wish that they picked books with more depth. There are some very deserving science fiction books that missed out 🙁 At least The Sisters Brothers was an entertaining read – I am pleased that I read it. 🙂

I sampled this on my Kindle and it does sound interesting. I’m still debating whether to purchase it or wait if it makes the shortlist.

I must say Pigeon English didn’t enthrall me after a few pages so I’ve put it aside. I just reviewed Snowdrops on my blog. Surprisingly I really liked it a lot. I wonder what you’ll think of it.

mrs B, I wasn’t a big fan of Pigeon English either, but if you liked the kindle sample of The Sisters Brothers then I’m sure you’ll enjoy the rest of the book as it continues in the same vein. I abandoned Snowdrops, but I’m heading off to your blog to see why you loved it so much.

I’m still finalizing my thoughts for my review tomorrow, but I agree. I really liked it, but I found it more of an escapist read than a challenging literary one. I find its placement on the longlist curious, but I suppose I wouldn’t have read it if it didn’t make it.

I ve this one my tbr pile was sent it and didn’t think it was for me at time but now it is on booker list I will read it soon ,I ve read two so far from longlist ,all the best stu

I am really pleased this is on the longlist and its the next one I am going to read. I saw Annabel of Gaskella’s review and was intrigued, however it was the Booker inclusion that really piqued my interest and I am pleased there are such varied books in the list.

I think theres an interesting change in this years list, people don’t feel its so ‘literary’, but what is ‘literary’ exactly these days? In fact has there ever been a formula for what makes a ‘literary’ novel?

Despite your positive review, this book doesn’t really inspire me that much, and I’m not filled with an urge to read it straightaway (or anytime soon). For me, there’s something quite off-putting about the title (too gimmicky), and even the cover doesn’t really entice. I reckon it’s a case of prejudice for the sake of prejudice. And I thought I was better than that!!

I am glad that you enjoyed it though. 🙂

I grew up in the States watching genre TV Westerns such as Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel and Rawhide in the 50s and 60s. Stock Western characters with cliche laden scripts for the most part. I thought The Sisters Brothers was a great parody of these in novel format. I really enjoyed it, and DeWitt is a supreme parodist.

[…] Set, in the Wild West during California-Gold-Rush fever, protagonist Eli Sisters and his brother, Charlie Sisters, receive prompts for a new job. Fabled as infamous outlaws, the Sisters brothers travel from Oregon City to San Francisco in search of a man with a debt to their employer. Successful completion of this operation results in the loss of life. Make no bones about it, the Sisters brothers are ruthless and deWitt’s writing leaves nothing to the imagination. “’Think I care what you want!’ He jabbed me and held the gun against my smarting leg. A twig snapped in the distance and I felt the gun go slack as the prospector turned to look. I grabbed the rifle barrel and yanked it away. The prospector lit out for the woods and I turned and pulled the trigger but the rifle was not loaded. I was reaching for my pistol when Charlie stepped from behind a tree and casually shot the prospector as he ran past. It was a head shot, which took the back off his skull like a cap in the wind. I dismounted and limped over to the twitching body. My leg was stinging terribly and I was possessed with a rage. The man’s brain was painted in purple blood, bubbling foam emerging from its folds; I raised up my boot and dropped my heel into the hole with all my weight behind it, caving in what was left of the skull and flattening it in general so that it was no longer recognizable as the head of a man. When I removed my boot it was as though I were pulling it from a wet mud” (105). In addition to gory descriptions such as this quotation, deWitt explores the softer side of Eli Sisters. A portly character, Eli refuses to shoot from the hip, drink obsessively, or find solace in the arms of a prostitute, unlike his unwholesome brother Charlie. “I had in the last year or so given up whores entirely, thinking it best to go without rather than pantomime human closeness; and though it was unrealistic for a man in my position to be thinking such thoughts, I could not help myself: I saw my bulky person in the windows of the passing storefronts and wondered, When will that man there find himself to be loved” (56)? A Fast-Paced Western, An Introspective Tome A Western that feels like a Coen Brothers movie, The Sisters Brothers melds violence and criminal activity with characters you can’t help but root for. The brothers are smart and crafty; they find themselves in dangerous scenarios encountering men of a much worse sort. In addition to intriguing character developments, deWitt’s plot moves quickly with cliffhangers keeping me glued to the page. In many ways, The Sisters Brothers represents the perfect mix between a zip-along plot and character introspection. Patrick deWitt writes beautifully; his historical setting envelopes the reader. If you are looking for a fast paced book with depth, look no further than The Sisters Brothers. Verdict: 5 out of 5 — Posted by: Donovan Richards Alternative Views: Farm Lane Books Blog […]

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