One of the short listed list titles that was thrown about when the Booker prize was accused dumbing down and becoming too popularist.The whole thing felt a bit like a desperate attempt at publicity for the annual literary prize giving and certainly does a big injustice to Patrick Dewitt's second novel The Sisters Brothers. Having said that it is an unusual Booker fare in that it is a slim novel of just over 300 pages with lost of white space and a western to boot. The highly stylised cover though hints that what will be found within the covers isn't a standard cowboys and indians adventure or even a gritty Cormac McCarthy type modern update.
What we get is a stylised off beat tail of 2 brothers ,both seasoned hired killers , being paid to track down and murder an elusive gold prospector ,who has stolen from the brothers' employer the commodore
Set in gold rush California, we follow the brothers as they journey towards their prey, diverted along the way by a number of odd ball characters that cross their path, all desperately striving but ultimately seeming confused and lost in the maelstrom and chaos of a nations birth. We see all of this through the eyes of Eli the younger of the brothers, shy around women, empathetic to strangers , an old fashioned sense of politeness but with a red mist temper and dead eyed acceptance of violence and death. His older brother, Charlie is more calculated , colder and ruthless who killed their father as a boy. Eli gradually comes to question the life they lead and their own motives. He starts to yearn for the life of a storekeeper, his dreams and thoughts played out as his brother hands out violence and death with an efficient ruthlessness only matched by his indifference.
The enjoyment in the novel comes from so many places, the bickering of the brothers , the creeping feeling that as they chase their prey it is fact the brothers who are on the run they just don't know it , the violence and desperation of the age combined with a victorian sense of manners that leads to such off kilter values and from the comedy as each situation and character they come across seems crazier than the last.
The comedy cant hide the over riding sense of sadness that make the book so powerful. The only criticism I'd have is that it starts to lose its way at the end and I think the very ending will split readers. But as something truly original , a Coen film in print, I'm pretty sure this will be somewhere near the top of my best of list at the end of the year.
You can buy the Sisters Brother here
I've also read Field Grey by Philip Kerr the latest in his Bernie Gunther series (private eye in pre , and post war Berlin) Although not his best, hopefully a hiccough, it is still a superior and clever thriller with dialogue that Chandler would have been proud of.