Author: Patrick deWitt
Pages: 325 (paperback)
Published: January 5th 2012
Published by: Granta Books
It is 1851, and a lust for gold has swept the American frontier. Two brothers - the notorious Eli and Charlie Sisters - are on the road to California, following the trail of an elusive prospector, Hermann Kermit Warm. On this odyssey Eli and his brother cross paths with a remarkable cast of characters - losers, cheaters, and ne'er-do-wells from all stripes of life - and Eli begins to question what he does for a living, and whom he does it for.
Eli and Charlie Sisters are notorious killers and renowned gun-slingers working for The Commadore. He sends them off to kill a man who has stolen something from him and so they begin to journey from Oregon City to a California in the grip of the gold rush. Eli narrates their adventures as they make the trip and track down their man, with their fair share of misfortunes along the way.
I'm reading this book for my book club, and it's isn't really something I would have picked up myself. I'm not really into Westerns, and at its core this is what this book is. For all that though, I did quite enjoy it and it was an easy enough book to read, for the most part. The chapters whiz by, though the two Intermissions are a bit weird, and I don't really see how they fit into the rest of the book. There were also a couple of instances where I had to go back and reread paragraphs because it was a little unclear what was going on, but for the most part the writing was good, if not overly descriptive. Though having said that, Eli doesn't really strike me as the descriptive type so it kinda makes sense that there isn't that much included in his narration of the events.
There is a dark side to it, with the brothers killing their way down to California and the unavoidable accompanying icky bits - the one that comes to mind being Eli standing on the head of a man his brother had just shot in the head and some 'lovely' accompanying descriptions... They killed so many people I lost track, and I get that that's what they do and things were different in that time and place but I still in places didn't like it. But for all that the violence wasn't gratuitous. It fit with the characters and you really do feel that that is just the way they react to things.
This holds particularly true for Charlie who seems the more trigger happy of the two, maybe contributing to me liking him less than Eli. He was mean and selfish, always wanting to get his own way and bulling on regardless of other people, and you do get the feeling that sometimes Eli doesn't really like him. Eli, on the other hand, had something of this in him but you kinda get the feeling he would have been a good guy if it hadn't been for his brother. He does what he can to help a few people and tries to be kind, but there is always that mean streak waiting for the slightest opportunity to leap out. And they have quite a typical sibling relationship - they bicker and they argue, but they're still there for each other no matter what.
The pacing was good, and you were never to long between events, though some of them are a bit random and never really get explained - very reflective of real life I suppose; you don't always find out the endings to things you come across. The ending is weird, in that it's both happy and sad. I couldn't quite decide which feeling was predominant come the end of the book as there are aspects of both. I'm glad Eli and Charlie ended up where they did, but sad about the events leading up to it and what it took to get them there.