Join Patrick de Witt to talk about October's Book of the Month, The Sisters Brothers, Tuesday 6 November, 9-10pm

(112 Posts)

Another Booker-shortlisted masterpiece this month. THE SISTERS BROTHERS by Patrick de Witt was a 2011 contender, and the first ever western to make it onto the list. It is set in the 1850s, Gold Rush California, where the famous killers Eli and Charlie Sisters are on a job for the big boss, The Commodore. Eli is not your average hired gun. He unsuccessfully tries dieting, he's evangelical about his new toothpaste, he has complex loyalties to his horse, Tub. He's tenderhearted, protective and philosophical. He also has to watch out for his volatile brother, whose regular bouts of brandy-sickness and violence make their relationship somewhat fraught. But by the end of their madcap roadtrip, a strange kind of honour and truth emerges, far more precious than the gold that bewitches all around them.

If this novel were a movie, it would be directed by the Coen brothers: O Brother Where Art Thou? crossed with True Grit. But the strongest feeling that lingers after the last page is that it is just very much itself: blackly funny, exquisitely voiced, deeply human and completely original.

Our book of the month page has lots more about THE SISTERS BROTHERS and Patrick.

You can get a Kindle edition or a paperback copy of the novel here.

We are thrilled that Patrick will be joining us to discuss the book and answer any questions about THE SISTERS BROTHERS, the Booker and his writing career on Tuesday 6 November, 9-10pm. See you there...

FairyArmadillo Sun 04-Nov-12 22:56:08

This isn't the type of book that I would normally choose to read. But that's why I joined this book club- to expand my tastes and try reading something I'd never think of choosing for myself. At first I was put off by the descriptions of the book being gruesome, but I personally found the description of the execution of Anne Boleyn in last month's book (Bringing Up The Bodies) more harrowing. The humour in Patrick DeWitt's book offset the violence. With the way he wrote it, I found the horse surgery scene with both horrendously disgusting and funny! I thought this book was very well written and enjoyed it.

I'm interested to know what background research Patrick did. Life in that part of the world, in those days sounds so grim!

GothAnneGeddes Mon 05-Nov-12 12:02:34

I'm not into Westerns at all, but was lured in by the title and cover.

I absolutely loved, devoured it like a really good meal.

I recommended it to my sister and she's been begging me to recommend something as good ever since.

My question to the author would be about the title/character name. When and why did you decide they'd be the Sisters Brothers.

freerangechickens Mon 05-Nov-12 23:35:48

I read this book several months ago, having seen it recommended somewhere in a book thread. I found it rather funny that I was born in Oregon City, spent my life moving up and down the I-5 corridor, and ended up living back in OC for the past 5 years, and the way I found out about the book was from a British parenting website, in some sort of odd circle of life type way. I'm not interested in Westerns at all, but I got it due to the Oregon City connection, and liked it more than I thought.

I found there were parts that I had to read with one eye closed as they were a bit gruesome, but, like others loved the relationship with the horse. I did also find the ending a bit jarring, as if the rest of the book was paced at a ramble, and then all of a sudden everything quickly got wrapped up into a neat package at the end in a very short period of time.

There really isn't a question in here, is there?

ripsishere Tue 06-Nov-12 02:01:14

I missed the chat angry.
I loved this book, DH bought it for me on kindle, I didn't fancy it but read it out of desperation and adored it.
I did remark to DH that it would be a film <prophetic.>

typicalvirgo Tue 06-Nov-12 09:42:28

No you havent Rips its later today !

Ermm.... I cant think of a question at the moment, but I really enjoyed the book, I liked the descriptions of the characters and I didnt find the violence too bad hardened

What irriatated ma a little in the hard copy was the way each chapter started about 3/4 of the way down the page. I'm not sure what the purpose of that was but I'm sure its not something patrick would have had control over.

My question is how and what gave you the inspiration for this story ? is it visiting these old places, or a childhood fascination or what ?

Hullygully Tue 06-Nov-12 09:47:16

Great book, Patrick. Very very clever to make psychopaths so sweet and endearing. Very hard balancing act. Cool beans to you.

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 06-Nov-12 11:08:04

ripsishere

I missed the chat angry.
I loved this book, DH bought it for me on kindle, I didn't fancy it but read it out of desperation and adored it.
I did remark to DH that it would be a film <prophetic.>

No, no, no!! You haven't missed it, it's tonight at 9pm. Hope you can still make it.

PatrickdeWitt Tue 06-Nov-12 11:22:00

<taps microphone> testing, testing...

(this is MNHQ, we're just double-checking Patrick's log-in ahead of tonight)

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 06-Nov-12 19:17:44

Patrick, thanks v much for coming on, welcome to Mumsnet.

I thoroughly enjoyed your book. The lyrics, "Mama, put my guns in the ground/I can't shoot them anymore" were going through my head at the end <shows age>.

If your book IS made into a film (which we're all assuming), do you have any strong feelings about the soundtrack? Thank you.

PatrickdeWitt Tue 06-Nov-12 20:43:18

Hello Mums. Thanks for having me over. I'm going to go have a cig but'll be back at the top of the hour. . .

southlondonlady Tue 06-Nov-12 20:52:37

Hello, loved the book, the story has stayed with me and like others have said, it was all very visual! I think the gold rush era is fascinating. My question: because of Charlie's injury, both brothers will need to make a new life. But if that hadn't happened, do you think that Eli would have had the strength to go his own way? As he seemed very tied to/easily influenced by Charlie.

Evening everyone

Months ago, when the date of the this webchat was settled, I had no idea it would be US election night. I now feel it is all rather appropriate that we're about to discuss the nature of greed, the struggle for identity and the search for wads of cash. And I am delighted that Patrick de Witt is joining us tonight (from the other side of the Atlantic) to throw light on the inspiration and research behind his Booker-shortlisted, brilliant novel.

We already have many questions to get through, so off we go...

Patrick, firstly, thank you very much indeed to taking the time to be here. And many congratulations on such a successful, memorable book. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you...(when you've finished your cig)

PatrickdeWitt Tue 06-Nov-12 21:02:48

Thanks, Tilly. Here's the first answer:

In the beginning the characters of Eli and Charlie were very similar in their temperaments. But at a certain point Eli came into focus as the more sensitive of the two, as the more busy-minded, and so he was an obvious choice for the narrator. It would be a completely different book if Charlie narrated it. It’d be an unpleasant pamphlet. Charlie isn’t a searching sort, the way Eli is.

PatrickdeWitt Tue 06-Nov-12 21:03:51

Not sure if you can tell who asked the question/what the question is. I'll post the q/ and a/s together from here on out. . .

PatrickdeWitt Tue 06-Nov-12 21:04:58

UntamedShrew Tue 16-Oct-12 07:22:44
I enjoyed it and look forward to passing it on to my DF who will love it, I'm sure. I agree it's hugely visual - I don't usually spend so long imagining who will play the leads for example. &#8232;&#8232;Without (I hope) giving too much away - Patrick did you always have that ending in mind or were you ever tempted to have things turn out differently for Eli?

I knew at a certain point that they would go home, but I didn’t know what ‘home‘ would look like - whether or not the house would be there, whether or not their mother would be there, whether or not she’d be happy or sad to to see them.

PatrickdeWitt Tue 06-Nov-12 21:05:38

And.. Who do you see playing Eli & Charlie?!

I’d like John C Reilly to play Eli. Charlie changes in my mind. Viggo Mortenson? Sean Penn?

PatrickdeWitt Tue 06-Nov-12 21:06:39

simbo Tue 16-Oct-12 10:31:43
I think the principal message of this book is that there is no redemption for men except through women. Left to their own devices the men sink to base levels, killing, accumulating wealth, which they do for it's own sake rather than earning money for a positive purpose eg to feed their family; none of them even has one. Each man is in some way a caricature. To the outside world Eli is one half of The Sisters Brothers, only through his internal monologue do we see him as a person. At some point Eli realises that there is more to life than the way that they are living. He wants to have a relationship, have a meaningful life, and failing to do so (the bookeeper being his only prospect in the story), returns to the only place where he can be loved unconditionally.&#8232;&#8232;I wonder about the author's own relationships with women, and whether they coloured this book intentionally or subconsciously? That would be my question for him.

Well, I would disagree that that is the book’s principal message, though I’m tempted to agree with the sentiment, at least in relation to a certain type of man: ambitious to a fault, self-centered, etc. I’m not sure what to say about my relationship with women, other than to point out that I prefer the company of women to men, and always have, and always will.

PatrickdeWitt Tue 06-Nov-12 21:08:09

My question to Patrick would be why he chose this nice neat ending?

The ending isn’t working for some readers, and I knew it wouldn’t when I was writing it, but I stuck with it because, for me, it simply IS the ending: it strikes me as factual, as if it actually happened, and I felt I couldn’t turn my back on it.

PatrickdeWitt Tue 06-Nov-12 21:16:11

Ponya Tue 30-Oct-12 16:08:02
What are the intermissions sections all about and what is the purpose of the peculiar girl?

I don’t know, and I don’t know. I tend to work from a place of instinct rather than intellect. I like mysteries, in the work of others and in my own work as well. It’s common for me to write sections that don’t serve a specific purpose but feel necessary to me, and the intermission sections are good examples of this. I can’t say that they propel a narrative or ‘do’ anything, but I find them crucial in fleshing out the landscape, illustrating its strangeness and dangerousness.

PatrickdeWitt Tue 06-Nov-12 21:19:01

ShellyBobbs Thu 01-Nov-12 11:57:14
Patrick, could you explain the relationship between the mother and Eli and Charlie?

Explain it? I’m not sure what you mean. I think it’s pretty clear that Eli is the favored son, and that his failing to live up the the mother’s moral standard has damaged their relationship very seriously. Charlie’s actions have also hurt his mother; these disappointments have made her hard, cynical. The specter of the father seems to hang over their every word, and has colored their lives in a toxic way. Not a very happy family, in other words.
PS - Am I doing this right? I'm not what you'd call tech savvy. . .

CockBollocks Tue 06-Nov-12 21:23:53

Sean Penn & John C Reilly? They are exactly how I would imagine the two, but about ten years ago!!

ShellyBobbs Tue 06-Nov-12 21:25:37

When Patrick said John Reilly, I thought, 'of course it's Eli!'.

PatrickdeWitt Tue 06-Nov-12 21:26:55

CockBollocks Thu 01-Nov-12 15:01:48
Well, I think I am going to read it again!! Loved the idea and style but felt unfulfilled by the content, I wonder if maybe I didn't get into the story properly.&#8232;&#8232;I just couldn't get any feeling from it, I read and just found myself wanting to get to the end so I finished it.&#8232;&#8232;Some of the elements that didnt really go anywhere were quite distracting. The little girl and the boys mother for example.&#8232;&#8232;For me they seemed to skip through the journey too fast giving the reader only tiny snapshots of the characters they met - I wanted to know more.&#8232;&#8232;What were Patricks reasons for moving through the encounters so fast? The book is quite short, I was certainly left wanting more from it.

I think we’re dealing with a mismatch in taste and aesthetics, here. Sometimes I’ll meet a reader who really dislikes my work, and the attitude they tend to adopt is that I’ve failed them in some fundamental, personal way. On the one hand this can be disconcerting, but I have to admit that I understand this attitude, because I feel the same thing, in reverse, which is that this person has failed me as a reader.
This type of back-and-forth is ultimately counterproductive in that nothing can be done about it. So, it’s something I try to avoid.

PlusCaChange Tue 06-Nov-12 21:27:08

Hello Patrick. I loved this book, especially Eli's narrative voice and the black humour. My question is quite pedestrian I'm afraid: why did you choose to call the protagonists the "Sisters" brothers? Thankyou and please write more books!

You're doing great - I did just send you an email about the Quote button (so you don't have to cut and paste) but no particular worry if you want to keep on doing it this way.

I think your answer about prefering the company of women to men is interesting - do you think women would have gone to such lengths to get gold, had it not been so dangerous? Did any women go and try or was it completely out of the question?

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