Friday, 10 January 2014

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Reviewer: JJ Marsh, author of The Beatrice Stubbs series

What we thought: 1850s. Eli and Charlie Sisters are hired guns on their way out west to kill a man called Herman Kermit Warm. The story is narrated by Eli, whose quirky deadpan style belies a surprising sensitivity. The two men are practical and efficient when it comes to violence, but Eli has a sentimental streak, which starts to affect the way he feels about his work.

The ambience of a lawless frontier where life is precarious is beautifully brought to life. DeWitt doesn’t shy from stark depictions of violence, but the book is shot through with a dry humour and human sympathy. Particular moments, such as Eli’s introduction to dental hygiene, are laugh-aloud funny and some of his philosophical ponderings are truly touching.

But what I loved most about this is the powerful voice that makes us view the world through Eli’s distinctive standpoint. Through his personality, we observe kindnesses and cruelties, power and greed, and reflections of the two brothers in other characters’ eyes. Unusual, unpredictable and unforgettable.

You’ll enjoy if you like: Joseph Heller, The Coen Brothers’ films, Thomas Strittmatter, Tibor Fischer.

Avoid if you don’t like: Violence, cowboys, black humour.

Ideal accompaniments: Beef jerky, toothpaste, Jack Daniels and Ennio Morricone.

Genre: Historical Fiction

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