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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 8 April 2012
Let's start by stressing that I am not a Western fan and I came to this book with more than a little trepidation. The Wild West, gold rushes and spit-in-the dust saloons are typically so much hooey as far as I'm concerned.

I need not have worried: the writing is smooth and fluid, the characters - although a parade of grotesques - are engaging and held my interest throughout. The narrator - Eli, one of the two epnymous Sisters brothers - is sympathetic and horrific in equal measure. The events he recounts are equally evocative, laced with liberal amounts of black humour. In fact, I think it's true to say that I've never encountered humour that was blacker!

By its ending, the story put me in mind of Voltaire's "Candide", another book I love. And it is into the same category that I put "The Sisters Brothers" and it is on that basis that I've now purchased Ablutions.
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VINE VOICEon 18 October 2014
Super book. Hard to categorise. It's about hired killers in the old west, who are on another job. They are the notorious Sisters brothers. But it's not really about the old west, the gold rush, cowboys or killers, it's about one of the brothers (who narrates), his thoughts, his feelings, his desire for 'home'.....his attachment to his horse. A great tale, well told.
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on 14 September 2017
Such a page-turner and genuinely funny - if you like a little edgy dark humour - he's one of my favourite writers of the last few years
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on 29 August 2017
Excellent book.
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on 3 September 2017
Not my choice of book, I belong to a book club, and this was the chosen book! Failed to see why it had so many 5 star reviews.
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on 20 September 2017
Fantastic book, really special, should have won the Booker.
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on 2 April 2016
Readable but not a topic I enjoyed
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I really didn't get on with this book at all but I understand that it has had considerable success and I have heard and seen glowing reviews. I can only conclude that the book is one of those which some people enjoy a lot and others don't get at all. I place myself firmly in the latter camp. I have also seen this book described as darkly funny but it raised no smile from me at any point.

The story is set in the 1850s and concerns two brothers (whose surname is Sister and thus we get the title). They live in the American West and are guns for hire committing murder and other similar acts as part of their job. Charlie Sister is a psychopath enjoying mayhem and murder and killing almost without thought. His brother Eli, who narrates the book, is beginning to want out of the lifestyle but he also commits heinous acts with no second thoughts. The story follows the brothers as they search for a man they have been employed to kill. As they travel across the American West they encounter all manner of people most of whom are a lot worse off after the encounter. Eli tries in an inept way to look at how he could build a life away from murder and tries to attract a woman and build up some savings but nothing works for him. Everyone they meet seems venal and desperate and the ending sort of fizzles out.

It is impossible to like or admire any of the characters in this book. The situations which arise are far fetched and unrealistic. I am not really sure what the author was trying to say. I failed to engage with the story or the characters. I don't know whether it was the author who failed or me as a reader or whether this book just wasn't a good match for me but I really didn't get it.
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VINE VOICEon 23 September 2015
A pulp Western has lots of action, but only basic characterisation.
This novel is also set in the Wild West, and contains many violent actions, but it is primarily focussed on the characters, and what makes them who they are. The violent environment is merely the backdrop against which this character study is played out.

It is not primarily an adventure. Nor is it an evocation of the Old West - although the setting appears to be completely authentic. If the setting, or the promise of violence were what drew you to this book, you will probably be disappointed.

Its interest lies in the character study of two killers. One performs the act as a matter of work, without engaging his emotions. When he thinks about his line of work, he dislikes it.The other seems a "natural born killer" - the act exhilarates him. They are brothers. As they travel across country in the process of fulfilling a contract placed by their regular employer, the more thoughtful brother ponders how and why they ended up doing this, and whether he has any alternative.

Eli copes with the nature of his work by dissociation. Since he is telling this story, the voice is flat and dispassionate - this is not a defect in the writing, but a demonstration of the character's coping mechanism.

Most of the characters in the story seem trapped and doomed. Although the Sisters Brothers are ostensibly successful, Eli feels equally trapped. His fumbling attempts to find some sort of alternative - some human interaction for himself - provide what humour there is. Trapped in a fat and unprepossessing body, Eli is in fact more intelligent than anyone gives him credit for; however his insights only cause him pain. Personally I don't see the comedy that some reviews refer to - the psychopathic brother enjoys mocking failures, but I do not feel inclined to join him.

This book does very well what it sets out to do. It is not an action adventure, nor is it a historical piece. It is a thoughtful, and extremely well-written depiction of the mentality of men who do bad things - they are capable of humour, failure and occasionally regret. They are real people. But they kill other people for the most trivial of reasons. This is the real face of evil - banal, flawed, and all the more dangerous because of that.

These are violent men in violent times and the violence is unflinchingly described, because to the narrator a description of a killing has no more emotional content than a description of his breakfast. So it is not always an easy read - but to make it so would be to falsify its depiction.

However, this character study does not really have any new insights. The killer who kills as a job, the killer who kills for kicks - we have meant them both before. It is a good enough read, and competently done - but I am surprised that it was considered to be a possible prize-winner.
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on 5 September 2013
Absolutely charming. The story of two brothers in Gold Rush era America, Eli and Charlie Sisters, who are hired killers working for the Commodore, on their latest assignment to get rid of Hermann Warm, a prospector who had allegedly stolen something precious from the Commodore. Told from younger brother Eli's perspective, the reader immediately identifies his softheartedness apparent in his sentimental insistence on keeping a slow and witless horse Tub, his lovelorn nature as he falls for one, then another of the ladies he meet on his quest with his brother, and his willingness to trim down his uncommonly (for a hitman at least) hefty frame for love. It becomes apparent he is far from your ordinary assassin and that it would only a matter of time that the mission would be fraught with tension and conflict against his polar opposite of a brother, Charlie.

Uproariously funny, and interspersed with chillingly brutal scenes, deWitt's writing is powerfully acerbic as it tells the story of the pair of brothers who have stumbled into their profession not quite by choice, in a deceptively deadpan manner. The concise chapters also give the narrative an episodic and filmic quality that moves it along rather efficiently and holds the reader's interest as he anticipates the next scene or revelation. This book is also touching in its portrayal of the at-times testy relationship between brothers, as well as the oft-neglected subject of comradeship and friendship between men. Highly recommended.
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