Wednesday 9 May 2012



I probably would not have read this book had it not been assigned for my book group.  As a child growing up in mid western America in the 1950's and 60's I was raised on the TV western. I knew all about the cowboys who sat with their backs to the wall, who cheated at cards and ended up thrown through the front saloon window, spluttering into the horse trough out front.

I was always amazed how the horses might jump back yet steadied on to remain in their places as one or more cowboys would vault up over their tail, into the saddle and ride away at top speed with only a bed roll bouncing behind them.

My husband who also grew up at that time in the same midwest as I, said he always wondered how the cowboys could fly out of town on their horse with their six shooters and their bedrolls but come nightfall they would be comfortably seated around a huge black cauldron that held slow cooked great food.

His question was, "Who brought the cauldron and how did they carry it?" 

I approached the Sisters Brothers stirring a bit of nostalgia of a long ago time of forming posses  on 'snow' horses with friends and hiding behind trees as we tracked some old woman as she bought her weekly groceries ready to ambush her.  Our horses were always the fastest and the smartest. We didn't go to bed at night, we faded into the sunset.

The Sisters Brothers opens with the two brothers, Charlie and Eli about to head to San Francisco to kill a man named Herman Kermit Warm (don't you love that name?). They have been hired by the Commodore. The Commodore is wealthier than anyone they know and he likes to have people he doesn't like killed. He offers good reward money.

 Charlie is mean and shoots people at the drop of a hat, literally and Eli is an overweight softie who really doesn't understand why Charlie signs them up for these jobs.

Eli would be happy to run a trading post with the first woman he meets.  He would sell supplies to the prospectors and have a secure, safe life.

Charlie needs adrenaline and can't sit still.  He's rough and tough and mean as a snake stuck under a rock.

Charlie rides a really good functional horse named Nimble and Eli is stuck with Tub, who is lame half the time and has a bung eye. But they have bonded and he is loathe to get rid of him. 

There really is a lot more in this book but I hesitate to write down too much of it because I think the smaller incidents in the story are what makes it.  This book was short listed for the Man Booker prize of 2011.

I can say that most of the people in my book group like it because our book group is held at the local indie book shop and our facilitator sent out an email saying she had been receiving comments from customers how good this book is and she is hoping someone turns up who doesn't like it to generate a bit of controversy.

I have to say I liked this book.  I think I liked it a lot more than I wanted to. The writing style is brilliant and the story is told concisely, without waste of words and I was certainly drawn into it. The descriptions of the land and characters are vivid and living.

I thought the language the author used was beautiful. That is saying a lot because the beautiful language described a lot of horrendous things. This book is not for the squeamish yet it is not graphically violent as in a modern crime novel. It didn't give me nightmares because I doubt cowboys will be breaking into my home at night with a six shooter on a bung horse. Things tend to happen behind closed doors so you don't get graphic details, then again...........

The novel is full of contrasts. The scenery, the people, the events and the animals are in total contrast of each other.

One minute Charlie might be pulling his gun to murder someone in cold blood and the next he is sharing the minty flavour of the tooth powder his brother Eli has been given to freshen up his dental hygiene.  I found myself going from laughing out loud to saying out loud “Oh Yuck!” within a single paragraph.

These brothers are very close to each other. They are also very different as well. One has such a gentle soul and it may drive Charlie wild at times but yet he loves that side of his brother Eli. I thought the author gave Eli more depth than Charlie though I'm sure others might disagree with me.

The bounty, who Charlie and Eli are after in order to receive their reward are also caricatures, the schemes to make money are at times so simplistic but yet have dire consequences.  The reader never knows where this book is going to lead.
Travellin Penguin in the Wild West

My only criticism of it might be that at times some of the events that occur are a bit too much over the top.  I think maybe the author thought he would do something quite gory for a bit of sensationalism.  Yet the story works but then there is that ending. 

I won’t comment on the ending because I doubt anyone would figure it out and I hate spoilers in reviews.  I think the ending will make good discussion for the book group.

I am glad I read this book and I almost think that it is one I could read again sometime.  Even if I don't, I know I won't forget Charlie, Eli, Nimble and Tub any time soon.


  1. From your description of the book, I won't forget Charlie and Eli either. I can see a movie from this story.........

  2. Our book group met yesterday and pretty much everyone liked it. A couple didn't like all the gunfire in it, there is a lot but everyone else liked the funnier quirky bits in it. We talked about it being made into a movie but I couldn't watch a movie of this. I can read about gore but don't like to see it. All in book group exc one said they'd read this author's other book. Think he only has one.

  3. I enjoyed this book, too, and beforehand I didn't think I would. I read it because it was Booker nominated and I was trying to guess the winner. I liked it more than I thought I would.

  4. Everyone in our book group said they liked it more than they thought except for one woman who didn't like the violence in it. Such a well written quirky book. Thanks for your comment. Pam


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