Booker Prize Challenge Part 3: Oh Sisters Brothers, Where Art Thou?

This is going surprisingly well. Halfway through, and I’ve even managed to enjoy two of the books.

Patrick DeWitt’s ‘The Sisters Brothers’ was a bit of a surprise. It takes something of a lead from the Coen brothers’ recent forays into Western territory; reminding me of their take on ‘True Grit’ and even the more modern (and bleaker) ‘No Country for Old Men’. I wouldn’t describe the book as cinematic, but it has a similar sparse, deadpan humour, and takes the time to look at the more human side of some truly brutal characters.

Our narrator is Eli Sisters, one half of the eponymous duo. Like Pigeon English‘s Harrison Opoku, Eli (run through with a seam of uncontrollable fury) gives a unique viewpoint on a harsh world. Taking a world overfamiliar through screen and cliché and looking starkly at the underlying loneliness makes for a moving process. As the brothers make their journey, they stumble across fear, superstition, desperation and brutality, and are part of all of it themselves.

Eli slowly learns surprising things about himself and his brother, and we slowly get drawn into their particular pathologies. There is nothing but pathos for the most part, but it is told in a way that makes you bark laughter at even the bleakest moments. These are fragile people, as well as violent murderers. Watching the facade they create to keep on living crumble is heartbreaking. The book is grim with inevitability.

I felt the book tapered towards the end. That inevitability becomes predictability, and as things fall apart its hard not to feel that there’s an unnecessarily blatant bit of preaching tagged on to the book’s climax. Where something thrived on making brutal men subtle, it seems odd to grind such an obvious axe so loudly.

The characters make it, though. Their story is familiar, but told with such honesty and openness that it seems uniquely bold.

Restricted, simple prose yielding brutally honest emotions in a violent and almost complete moral void.

Shocking and entertaining, funny and utterly sad. Another great read.

To take a look at ‘The Sisters Brothers’ for yourself, you can find it on the library catalogue here.


About Alex

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