The Sister Brothers by Patrick de Witt.

Longlisted for the booker Prize 2012


Deceptively Simple

This was a very easy book to read. The story skipped along and the gentle humour provided a warm atmosphere. When one considers the violence and depravity depicted this is surprising. The Sister brothers are a gritty version of Smith and Jones from that well-known ABC TV series of the early 1970s. On the surface it seems to be a rather silly, episodic story set during the Californian gold rush. Charlie (the mean one) and Eli (the fat one) kill casually but can be judged more as victims than perpetrators as circumstances trip and trick them into an adventure of baffling morality.

The story is told from Eli’s point of view and deWitt deals his narrator a strong hand in bathos. A sensitive, gentle sort who keeps a worn-out horse out of pity, Eli is not entirely blind to the irony of his situation. He understands his brother Charlie has manipulated him into a life of murder when he would have been happy as a shopkeeper. The ludicrous adventure on which the brothers embark is similar to the quests of less subtle genres but the comic-book horror disguises much deeper themes.

What makes a life worthwhile? Homilies attempting to answer this question, are scattered throughout the novel.

“A great man is one who can pinpoint a vacuity in the material world and inject into this blank space an essence of himself!”
“Most people are chained to their own fear and stupidity.”
“Most people are imbeciles.”

These are just three pearls of wisdom selected from the general chaos.

I would recommend this novel to readers who like their thought to be provoked while they are looking the other way.

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