I decided to read True Grit after hearing it recommended on a podcast around the time of the recent film version being released. The John Wayne film version is one of the few Westerns I’ve watched and enjoyed so I thought it was worth a read. Was I right? Read on.
True Grit is the story of Mattie Ross, a fourteen year old whose father has just been killed by an outlaw called Tom Chaney. Leaving her mother to grieve and look after her younger siblings, Mattie makes a trip to sort out her father’s business affairs and find justice for his death, since Chaney has fled to lawless Indian Territory and no-one seems too interested in pursuing him.
So she secures the services of Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn and sets off to capture, and kill, Chaney. They are soon joined by a Texas Ranger called LaBoeuf who is after Chaney for crimes committed in Texas and for the reward.
The plot moves forward in a fairly straight-forward A-follows-B manner. What really draws you in is the main character and her relationship with Cogburn. Her determination and “grit” are what define her and what I suspect would be a very annoying tendency in real life of nagging til she gets her own way, makes you admire her.
The book is written in her voice, and at first I thought that Portis had cleverly captured that childish simplicity of speech. Then I realised that this was written as an older Mattie looking back. I did find the style a little wearing at times but I suppose it does work as a not overly-educated woman of that era writing her memories of these events.
Even so I think you have to take this style, along with her tendency to go off point and talk about religion (complete with scripture references), politics and unrelated history, as tongue in cheek. I’m not sure it was hilariously funny but it occasioned the odd wry smile and chuckle. However it also illustrates the “nasty, brutish and short” nature of life at that time and place, which was a counter point to any humour.
However the book was very readable and not too long. So overall I found it a good read.
7/10 – a good read, probably still prefer the movie though.