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

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  1. Parrish says:

    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..

    1. Jackie says:

      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?

  2. Annabel says:

    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.

    1. Jackie says:

      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.

  3. NancyO says:

    I’m on page 71. I hope I end up liking it as much as you did!

    1. Jackie says:

      Nancy, I’ll keep my fingers crossed :-) I look forward to reading your review.

  4. Teresa says:

    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.

    1. Jackie says:

      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. :-)

  5. Steph says:

    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!

    1. Jackie says:

      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!

  6. Book Atlas says:

    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! )

    1. Jackie says:

      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. :-)

  7. Amused says:

    I LOVED Lonesome Dove and have been craving another Western so I bet I would really like this one.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amused, If you loved Lonesome Dove then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one too – it could even become one of your books of the year. Enjoy!

  8. mrs.B says:

    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.

    1. Jackie says:

      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.

  9. 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.

  10. Jenners says:

    I LOVED Lonesome Dove … so I might just have to check this out.

  11. stujallen says:

    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

  12. 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?

  13. 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. :)

  14. 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.


  1. August Summary – Farm Lane Books Blog
  2. The 2011 Booker Prize Short List – Farm Lane Books Blog
  3. Who will make the 2011 Booker Short List? – Farm Lane Books Blog
  4. Book Review: The Sisters Brothers | Where Pen Meets Paper

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