True Grit by Charles Portis

Just finished reading True Grit which is one of those stories that I’ve wanted to read for ages and in fact had sitting by the side of my bed for about 3 or 4 years! Recommended by a good friend.  In truth I don’t read a lot of western type stories and yet the few I have read I’ve enjoyed and True Grit is no exception.  It’s just an incredibly good story, a bit of a coming of age tale really, told in retrospect by a woman called Mattie Ross.

I’m going to give you an example of the first few sentences which give you an idea of what Mattie is really like:

“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.”

For me, that snapshot gives a really good idea of the writing style and the character that you will be introduced to with Mattie.  It also pretty much sums up the story which is about Mattie finding her father’s killer, with the help of a US Marshall called Rooster Cogburn.

I’m not going to go further into the story because there are plenty of very excellent reviews already out there and on top of that the book has been successfully adapted to the big screen twice so I’m sure most people will already have an idea.

What made this book so enjoyable for me was a combination of plain, economic and yet effective writing, excellent characterisation and effortless world building that brings to life this strange and austere world coupled with very sharp dialogue that brings a certain comedic element in to play.

Now you might be thinking that with a 14 year old main protagonist this isn’t for you but Mattie is an intelligent girl who knows her own mind.  She’s not stubborn – she just knows what she wants to achieve and systematically goes about making it happen.  She’s not an emotional character at all and I think I really liked that about although in fact it did puzzle me at first, particularly how well she took the murder of her own father, but then the other thing with this story is it is being told by Mattie some considerable number of years later and so I suppose it’s easier to relate the story in a methodical and unsentimental manner.  Whatever the case may happen to be, I really liked the narration and think Portis does a fantastic job of bringing this western to life.

Without a doubt Mattie and Cogburn steal the show.  A detached 14 year old with a sharp tongue and an old curmudgeonly, drunken Marshall who would sooner shoot first and ask questions later.  And, it’s not just that these two are such good characters but it’s also the strange bond that they seem to develop.  Of course the story has other characters thrown in for good measure such as Chaney and Lucky Ned Pepper, plus LeBoeuf, the Texas ranger who is bounty hunting Chaney and manages to join up with Cogburn in the search.

I have to admit that if all westerns are this good I really could become quite addicted!

I would certainly recommend this and also, if you like what you read, you might also want to give Patrick DeWitt’s Sisters Brothers a look at.  All that remains to be said is:

“Fill your hand you son of a bitch”

As this is a book I’ve taken from my tbr I’m adding this to my Backlist Burndown – which you can check out over at Tenacious Reader. (I’m a little late – should really have posted yesterday!)

Oh, and for the record – I really liked the John Wayne version of Rooster – nothing wrong with Bridge’s version of course but that’s my opinion.

15 Responses to “True Grit by Charles Portis”

  1. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Oh, this sounds good. Got to love a female protagonist that knows her own mind, and even more so for knowing it at age 14.

    • lynnsbooks

      Mattie is brilliant – and Cogburn. But Mattie is just this no-nonsense type of character and as a result she comes across with some great lines – all delivered kind of deadpan as though she’s simply relating fact! A great counterpart to Cogburn’s rough bravado!
      Lynn 😀

  2. notesoflifeuk

    I didn’t realise this was a book as well as a film. I might just give it a go.

    • lynnsbooks

      I was surprised at just how much the film has stuck to the book, in fact a good deal of the dialogue is literally lifted straight off the page – which is no surprise because the characters and dialogue are excellent.
      Lynn 😀

  3. jessicabookworm

    I am pleased to hear you enjoyed this…I never realised it was a book but I have loved both of the films 🙂

    • lynnsbooks

      The book is really good to be honest. And I have to say that the films are both very impressive – I love the way they’ve stayed so true to the original story – even lifting the dialogue. Both really good. I did love John Wayne’s portrayal of Rooster though.
      Lynn 😀

      • jessicabookworm

        I particularly love the dialogue so am impressed to hear that much of it comes straight from the novel. I am very tempted to read it now 🙂

      • lynnsbooks

        It was great – and fairly quick to be honest – about 230 pages??
        Lynn 😀

  4. Michael

    I read this years ago after seeing the original (and still the best) version of True Grit for the first time. And I really liked it.

    And I’m glad to see someone else who likes Wayne’s portrayal of Rooster. I find merit in both takes on the character, but I like Wayne’s more. Probably the sentimental part of me.

    • lynnsbooks

      I think that the remake was a really good film and I particularly loved Mattie in that version. I don’t know why but I think Wayne just really ‘owned’ that character and it stands out somehow. I thought Bridges was good just not as memorable.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    As you know, I love westerns! I don’t read near enough of them either, so now I try to find spec fic western mash ups and get my fix that way.

    • lynnsbooks

      This was a great read – mainly because of the two main characters and the amusing dialogue. I was surprised at just how much the film stuck to the book tbh!
      Lynn 😀

  6. Elizabeth Campbell

    Ah! You read this too! High fives! This one totally surprised me. I was for sure not going to be impressed with this but the voice of it just swept me away. How did you come to find True Grit? I found it as one of the titles on The Big Read by National Endowment for the Arts (USA). I love that she views Rooster as having “true grit” but in the end it’s Mattie who’s got the true grit.l

    • lynnsbooks

      I found this through a friend who I used to work with. We still occasionally meet and over the years she has recommended some excellent books to me. She also recommended The Sisters Brothers which was another really good book and quite unexpected.
      Mattie is such an excellent character – I really like her.
      So glad I read this – I’ll have to check out this Big Read you mention.
      Lynn 😀

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