Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Review: True Grit by Charles Portis

Goodreads  * Amazon

224 pages
Published December 31st 2002 by Overlook TP (first published 1968)

Goodreads synopsis:

"Mattie Ross, 14, from Dardanelle, Arkansas, narrates half a century later, her trip in the winter of 1870s, to avenge the murder of her father. She convinces one-eyed "Rooster" Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshall, to tag along, while she outdickers and outmaneuvers the hard-bitten types in her path. "

Rating: 5 stars

Fourteen year-old Mattie Ross is on a mission to avenge her father's murder at the hands of outlaw Tom Chaney. She's traveled from Dardanelle, Arkansas to put her father's affairs in order, send his body back home, and stick around town long enough to hire out a rootin' tootin' U.S. Marshall to help her find Chaney and shoot the stuffing out of him. Chaney happens to have taken up with Ned Pepper's gang and they are off in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). 

Mattie is a total wit. I loved her wonderful narration and Portis deftly writes a character who is tough but still comes across as a girl of her time. She's a very clear minded girl, full of grit herself. She finds Rooster Cogburn to accompany her and they pick up Mr. LeBeouf (pronounced "le BEEF" so not to be confused with a stuttering actor of our day called le BUFF) who is himself a Texas Ranger and quite proud of it. Mattie's having none of that ego stuff and sets off determinedly even though Rooster and LeBeouf try to ditch her a couple of times. 

The book has been made into a film twice (I've only seen the 2010 version) and the 2010 Coen brothers rendition sticks very close to the novel save for a part here or there. For example, the scene where Mattie first speaks to LeBeouf is almost word for word, where later in the movie when Mattie asks LeBeouf not to leave -- well that one's not in the book at all. Minor changes here or there did not make either the book nor the film less enjoyable for me; both were excellent in their own right.

The book is in first person, told from Mattie's point of view. It begins:

"People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leavehome and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it didnot 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 of TomChaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him ofhis life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California goldpieces that he carried in his trouser band."
Mattie first sees Rooster Cogburn as he is testifying in court and we are treated to a very interesting transcription of the proceedings for a few pages which really help establish Rooster's background and personality. 

As in the film, when Mattie meets LeBeouf, their conversation is sharp and cute:

"I said, " Why did you not catch him in Monroe, Louisiana, or Pine Bluff,Arkansas?"
"He is a crafty one."
"I thought him slow-witted myself."  " That was his act."
"It was a good one. Are you some kind of law?"

and a few lines later:

"He stood up and said, "Earlier tonight I gave some thought to stealing a
kiss from you, though you are very young, and sick and unattractive to
boot, but now I am of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my
"One would be as unpleasant as the other," I replied. "Put a hand on me
and you will answer for it. You are from Texas and ignorant of our ways
but the good people of Arkansas do not go easy on men who abuse
women and children."
 I enjoy the way everyone speaks in this book, it's very old-fashioned and charming (even when they're being threatening, it's all a bit adorable.)

Mattie and company do eventually get their hands on their man, but not without a few twists and turns so you aren't completely sure if they're actually going to apprehend the man or if all of them will survive.

The story is wonderfully compelling and exciting, kept me glued to the pages, and provided a quick and satisfying read.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed the film, especially Matt Damon and I'm not a big fan of his. Interesting that the book is narrated by Mattie, I wondered if a male author in the what, 1960's, might default to a male's version of events.