The western has come along way on the big screen since GeneGebe Autry Thief river outlws Autry  and the Lone Ranger  rode out all those years ago.  In recent times it’s had a bit of a resurgence what with UnforgivenBroke Back Mountain and this years below par big budget release of  Cowboys and Aliens, a feeble attempt at bridging the generational gap.

Books haven’t fared as well, back in the days westerns were your equivalent of pulp fiction, hard and gritty and what every boy read to fuel a dream of owning a horse and  living out in the great outdoors, unfettered by rules or fences. The very first and only western I read was one originally owned by my father, it was “Gene Autry and the Thief River Outlaws”, published in 1944 and still available on Amazon for the more nostalgic of us. My copy is floating round my mum’s house somewhere. Printed westerns have fallen by the wayside and now become a niche read, sought out by the Stetson wearing anorak classes in dusty dark corners at the back of all good bookshops. That is until this month’s read, Patrick Dewitt’s “The Sisters Brothers”.

Sisters Bros. Cvr

Set in 1851, the story follows Charlie and Eli Sisters, two feared gunslingers and their faithful horses Nimble and Tubs as they journey from Oregon to San Francisco on the trail on a man called Hermann Kermit Warm, who is in possession of something wanted by their employer The Commodore. On their Journey, told through younger brother Eli’s eyes. We discover he’s a dreamer who yearns to step a way from his life of killing to order, after this last job. To find love, settle down and set up a General Store. While Charlie is the hard drinking, hard boiled type who lives to kill and instill fear into his victims and just wants to prove to the “The Commodore” that he can be the lead man. The brother’s relationship, lives and wealth go through highs and lows as they meet a cross section of society in the shape of weird and wonderful characters all hell bent on finding their fortune in the gold rush or  dealing with the affects it has had on their lives.
The book is awkward in that there are times when you want to laugh out loud at their exploits, and you do. But then other times, especially when reading Eli’s heart wrenching relationship with his horse Tubs and DeWitt’s telling of the story, that I was stuck between crying and laughing.

The Story is excellent overall and keeps you turning the pages and at just over 300 words it’s a book you can easily read in one sitting, as the prose and the chapters flow easily and quickly, a gangly and wordy Dickensian novel this isn’t and after throwing down “Great Expectations” before this and resorting to the BBC’s excellent version, I was delighted to get back into an enchanting and funny read.

Patrick dewittThis is Dewitt’s second book after “Ablutions” and it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year, but was just beaten by Julian BarnesA Sense of Ending”.  So get in your favourite seat/saddle and join Charlie and Eli for an emotional journey through the Gold Rush, and discover for yourself a real nugget of a novel.

(First published  2011)

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