Patrick deWitt’s THE SISTERS BROTHERS

In the last few years I have discovered a passion for Westerns. I was totally absorbed by HBO’s DEADWOOD and thoroughly enjoyed reading Charles Portis’s TRUE GRIT. I have a huge list of westerns I want to read but one of the pitfalls of being a bookseller is finding the time to read backlist as my reading pile is swamped with new releases. So it is a great joy when a new release is also a Western!

I have had THE SISTERS BROTHERS on my ‘to read’ list since the first review I read and have only read more and more great reviews. I had delayed reading the book waiting for its Australian release but I ended up missing its release here as I was without a rep for three months and didn’t get it sold in! (Please note how vitally important reps are). It wasn’t until the Man Booker Longlist for 2011 was announced that I realised what had happened and frantically ordered a stack of copies in and began reading the book immediately.

THE SISTERS BROTHERS is quite simply brilliant. Eli and Charlie Sisters are killers for hire in 1850s Oregon. They are on the trail of Herman Kermit Warm. They don’t know why he must die, only that he will. The book is immensely funny and deeply violent. We follow the brothers on their quest as they encounter a cast of unsavoury, destitute and/or crazy characters amongst the wild and brutal landscape (the poor horses!).  Narrated by Eli, in a very unique and distinctive voice, the heart of the story is the brothers’ relationship – with each other and their job.

There are echoes of The Coen Brothers in tone and humour but deWitt has created a fantastic novel in his own right. I think The Western is entering into a renaissance at the moment. The genre deserves revisiting as it still has a lot to say about what our societies have been built upon and as we redress the romantic Hollywood version of the West we can more honestly understand some of the issues that are still relevant today. Long live The Western!


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