Sunday 15 July 2012

The Sisters Brothers - cheating

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (Granta Books: 2011) A story of two notorious brothers at the time of the Gold Rush. The Sisters Brothers are guns for hire. Eli, the more sensitive of the two, begins to question the life they lead as their latest job throws up a host of moral dilemmas.

This whole GBR adventure has been fuelled, at least a little, by a wish to try new things. Be forced into new genres.

I’ve cheated every now and then. For graphic novels, I started with a literary one in Persepolis. For an intro to love stories, I sidestepped Mills and Boon and went for a more gothic option in The Gargoyle. But for the most part, I’ve picked a range of genres and tried to go straight at them. YA fiction, philosophy, science, Russian classics…you get the idea.

This time, though, I’ve cheated again.

It’s set in the Wild West. But I’m not sure you could describe this as a Western. Elmore Leonard this is not. I doubt John Wayne would have considered starring in the film adaptation.

I’m perhaps not qualified to discount this entirely as un-Western, having not read any of the classic variety, but there are a few things I’m pretty sure I can assume. The classic Western is action packed, one dimensional, and has a clear sense of good guys and bad guys.

The Sisters Brothers, on the other hand, has long periods of thoughtful narrative broken up with flashes of action. It’s nuanced in the themes it explores. And it’s intelligent in its portrayal of good and evil (with the possible exception of the figure of The Commodore).

For all these reasons, there’s much to like. I enjoyed Eli’s ethical struggle with himself and with his brother. I enjoyed the way deWitt sketched the brothers’ relationship. I enjoyed the character of Warm, an enigmatic figure for the first half and a driving voice of the second half.

It felt as if much was being held back though. Perhaps it’s a result of the tone deWitt was striving for. It’s understated. It’s successful in achieving the kind of tone you’d expect from a strong, silent cowboy with hidden depths.

All of which is to say it was boring in places. We all love that brooding character, but spend an entire book in his company and you can quickly become frustrated, aching for the fireworks to come or the story to giddy up.

There were scenes of high action. Explosions. Riotous parties. Even a duel. But they were over quickly, and they failed to ignite the imagination. You were never brought right into them as the reader. I felt constantly at an arm’s distance from what was happening on the page.

So a mixed bag in all. An original book. And one written with discipline and ingenuity. But lacking the sucker punch to make me love it. Like it, yes. Love it, no.


A couple of middle-of-the-road scores in a row. Lets’ see if we can shake the dust off next week. Planning on going for a historical novel that seems to be the commuters' favourite at the moment. And I know you love it when I go on about historical novels.


Benny said...

Agree with many of the comments: certainly the introspection and thoughtful narrative, but I have to say I was really impressed with it- and I also found it really, really funny! A great bit of western mythology turned on its head. I might have stretched to 7 for this one. Enjoyed the review though, cheers :)

Gav Collins said...

Cheers Benny