Wednesday, 2 February 2011

True Grit

I love western movies and have seen plenty of them. This was my first western novel and I must say I am very impressed.

This is the story of Mattie Ross; a rather naive but remarkably headstrong young girl who hires infamous US Marshall Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn to help her track down the man who murdered her father. With the help of LaBoeuf; a Texas Ranger on the trail of the same killer, the trio track the fugitive through the wilds of the southern US until a final fiery showdown.

The story is famous because of the 1969 movie with John Wayne starring as the eye-patch wearing, hard drinking and world weary Rooster. I didn’t remember much about this movie so I read the book not knowing much about the story. I’m glad I did as I like coming to a book ‘in the dark’ so to speak. I believe the reason I found it on the shelf of an English bookshop is due to the imminent release of the 2010 remake starring Jeff Bridges.

The book is short; barely more than 200 pages. The pace is excellent and not too much detail is given to things that don’t matter (no six page descriptions of landscapes here!) the characters are first class as is the amount of detail and personality given to them, even fairly minor ones. There is some excellent, memorable dialogue and figures of speech from the period make it more vivid and believable. There are some genuinely funny moments which had me chuckling and all in all the story exudes an air of authenticity. It is so well written it transports you to the period effortlessly.

No western would be complete without gun battles. Thankfully the author got the balance just right as there are plenty of gunfights but not too many that it cheapens the story. Of course there is bloody violence in the book which was, of course, glossed over in the 1969 Hollywood version, but it is to be expected and only adds to the realism of the book.

All in all I was thoroughly impressed and this book has given me a real taste for more westerns

Final verdict 4/5


  1. I just read this, after seeing (and loving) the Coen brother's adaptation. I agree--it is funny, the dialogue is fabulous, and it manages to feel authentic as well as unique.

    This was the first real Western I'd read, but I will be looking into more now.

  2. I've not seen the current movie, but I'm a fan of the John Wayne version and of the novel. It's a great little novel.

    If you're interested in more westerns, I'm hosting a western read-a-long during the month of May.

    Sorry, I couldn't resist putting in a little plug.

  3. I have never watched a western, but have heard so many good things about True Grit that it will be my first. I'm hoping I'll enjoy it as much as everyone else has done and it will lead me on to many more great western books and films.

    It is great to see your first experience was positive. I look forward to many more western recommendations in the future.

  4. I was curious about this after seeing the movie. I may have to check it out!

  5. And SNAKES! don't forget about the snakes! :)
    One of the best books I've read in awhile. And Mattie Ross...where has she been all my life? Move over Scout Finch!
    (Oh, and Charles Portis lives around the corner!)

  6. I'm a sucker for westerns as well - even though more in the cinema. I even had the theme from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" as my ring tone.

    I must read that book when I get a chance.

  7. @ Melody: True Grit has really gotten me interested in reading more western style literature.

    I've ordered The Outlaw Josey Wales to read next, I'll be sure to review it here. Feel free to message me if you find any really good ones! lol

    @ C.B James: Readalongs aren't usually my thing but I'd be very tempted by that one! I'll check for details nearer the time unless you have any you could message us now? Jess is a fan of westerns too after she loved Lonesome Dove.

    @ Jackie: You've been missing out! Western is a wonderful genre full of action and suspense and often alot of humour. I plan to read more of it very soon.

    @ Avid Reader: The movie isn't out in the UK for another week or so but I plan to see it as soon as possible. I've heard it's more faithful to the book than the John Wayne film which doesn't surprise me as they couldn't depict alot of the violence properly in 1969.

    @ Melissa: I didn't mention the snakes as I don't post spoilers ;o)
    At times I found Mattie's attitude a bit wearing and I'm not sure she replaces Scout Finch or Merricat Blackwood in my affections but she certainly represented a very strong female character in fiction.

    @ Man of la Books: Love the ringtone idea, that's very cool! ;o) I love western movies, my favourite probably being Clint Eastwood's 'Unforgiven' but it's hard to choose! I'm sure the books will prove just as gripping


  8. I hadn't read any western novels either. So I gave True Grit a try. It was okay. But...I just don't think the western thing agrees with me. So I don't really have a lot of interest in seeing the film either. I tried, but it's not for me.

  9. I'm dying to read this before seeing the movie (in the spirit of that "read it before watching the adaptation rule").

  10. I've had good experience with the couple of westerns I've read too (which pleasantly surprised me). This one is in my TBR. I love Rooster Cogburn with John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn more than True Grit as a film - as the new film is the Coen brothers and Jeff Bridges I'd like to see it - but not until I've read the book.

  11. @ Bethany: That's a shame that you don't like westerns, cest la vie I guess :o)

    @ Kerry: I made sure I read it before the film, I think it's best that way. Apparently the film is quite faithful to the book

    @ Annabel: I've heard the John Wayne film wasn't too accurate according to the book. If the new version is like the book it can't fail to be a hit!


  12. I have always been a fan of True Grit after seeing it in the theater with my Grandmother, a big John Wayne fan, but didn't realize that there was actually a book on it until recently. I read the book before seeing the new Coen Brothers movie and loved the book. I was actually surprised at how close the Coen Brothers' movie was to the original book. If you like westerns I would suggest Ron Hansen's books plus Little Big Man by Thomas Berger. Finally, I really enjoy your blog!

  13. Like you, I like to be "in the dark" when it comes to books and after reading so many good reviews of this book lately I regret that I've recently seen both the 1969 and 2010 versions of the film. I enjoyed the movies (particularly the 2010 version) but I wish that I had read the book first. I'm not sure if that prior knowledge of the story would destroy it.

    I've heard that Portis is a good writer all around so I may start with one of his other books and come back to this one later when the plot is not so fresh in my head.

  14. @ Becky: I'm seeing the movie tomorrow hopefully, if it is half as good as the book it will be a great movie!

    @ Everybookandcranny: I'm going to keep an eye open for future Charles Portis books as well as westerns in general, if True Grit is typical for him then he is a great writer indeed