Tuesday, February 8, 2011

True Grit by Charles Portis

True GritTitle: True Grit
Author: Charles Portis
Pages: 235
Published: 2010 The Overlook Press (orig. 1968)
My Rating: 4 stars

There has been a surge of reviews on this book since the new film came out, and I understand why.  I simply had to read this book after seeing the new film.  (I'm not one who minds seeing a movie before reading the book--most often if I like the movie, I like the book even more.)  I loved this film.  The acting, the setting, and especially the dialogue.  I haven't seen the old John Wayne movie, so I can't compare the two, but I can say that the recent one is a real treat.  Reading the book after seeing the movie didn't diminish my opinion of either one.  The film not only does a great job bringing the characters to life,  but follows the book quite closely.

True Grit is Mattie's story of how, when she was 14 years old, she sought to avenge her father's death.  It is told in her voice, and what a strong narrative voice she has.  Mattie takes herself pretty seriously, and the story is a serious one in many regards, although there is humor laced throughout, making it feel more comic than dramatic.  The part I had the most fun with was the dialogue--it is here that I found something truly unique (although the characters themselves were vivid and that was vital to the success of the story as well).  It was so much fun to hear the outdated speech patterns, I almost wanted to read it aloud.  The first line of the book might sound stilted, but if you take your time, put a voice to the lady telling the story, you can see that it is laden with character.
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.
There are very few contractions used in the speech, and it makes for interesting reading.  Contractions are such a part of speech patterns around me that it was a fascinating comparison.  I'm glad that I saw the movie before reading the book, because it allowed me to really hear the characters.  Passages in the book may have struck me as contrived or unrealistic if I didn't have such a good example of how it could really sound.

Mattie's voice and personality were strong and unique from beginning to end, and the pace never lagged for me.  Dialogue is not an area in writing that I'm used to being so entertained by, so this was a surprise and a delight.  I look forward to reading more Charles Portis in the future.


  1. I read this in 1978 aged 14 and still have my original copy. I have re-read it since and it still remains a firm favourite. I am delighted that so many folk are re-discovering the original book thanks to the film - which I have yet to see...

  2. Great review! I'd like to read this after I see the new movie. Skip the John Wayne version--it's tres cornball--but if you want to see a good John Wayne western, try Rio Bravo and The Searchers, both enjoyable.

  3. I saw the movie and loved it. I'm glad the movie followed the book so closely. The Cohen (sp?) Brothers are famous for interlacing drama with just the right amount of humor. I think Mattie's strong narrative voice would work very nicely in the book. She sort of reminds me of the Francie Nolan (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) of her time. Belle

  4. I loved the movie, but have no desire to read the book (the idea of reading a book after seeing the movie kind of reminds me of reruns, which I don't like).

  5. What a great story, lovely treez! I love it when a favorite story remains cherished. I thought the new film was quite faithful, although I'd be interested to see what you'd think, since you have a history with the book that I lack.

    Thanks for the suggestions, Teacher/Learner. I'm almost embarrassed to say that I haven't seen a John Wayne western, so I appreciate the direction!

    Belle, she is somewhat similar to Francie Nolan, isn't she? The setting is so different that I didn't even think of it. Did you see their move A Serious Man? It had me stymied until I read that it was loosely inspired by the book of Job...it shared some of the characteristics of True Grit, as far as the drama/humor balance as well as the distinctive setting and characters.

    Makes sense, fizzy! I think I hold a fascination for books with movie adaptations, like I want to see for myself if they did a good job of catching all the nuances of the book. As if I am the supreme judge. :)

  6. So glad you enjoyed this one Melody! I think maybe January was a bad month for me as both books I read I felt "eh" about.

    Interesting about reading the book after seeing the movie. That rarely works for me, but actually in this case I think it would have been better as I could hear the tone--like you say.

    Also interesting about the contractions! I hadn't noticed. I had not noticed. Ha. ;)

  7. This is funny to me because just yesterday a boy in my writing class in our homeschool group mentioned the lack of contractions in the movie. Thanks for a good review of both the movie and the book! Now I'm interested in both!

    I clicked through from Semicolon.

  8. The movie was fantastic, and I've been trying to get hold of a copy of the book. I'll probably just have to buy it - there are over 50 holds on the first library copy that gets returned.

    Thanks for the review!

  9. I loved the recent film too and have been thinking about picking up the book. Good to know it doesn't disappoint.

  10. Trish, watching movies before reading the book seems to work okay for me, I'm not sure why. Maybe partly because I don't really mind spoilers? And because often I'll enjoy the movie, and then enjoy the book even more so it's win/win. With this one, though, I think I actually enjoyed the movie more.

    Amy, the contractions are such an interesting thing! I don't know that I would have been able to properly imagine the lack of contractions if it weren't for the Coen brothers. :)

    inkslinger, the book does seem to be in great demand after the movie, which I like to see. And so many holds on an older book is fabulous! I hope you enjoy it!

    Amber, yeah they are pretty similar. I enjoyed that that book wasn't too detailed and poetic. If it was more wordy it would have lost some of its charm, I think.


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