Richard Barnes's Reviews > True Grit

True Grit by Charles Portis
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's review
Feb 04, 2012

really liked it
Read in February, 2012

This book has many strengths. Its plot is a simple, yet effective tale of revenge in the old west. At first glance, the characters occupy regular western stereotypes, the maverick gunslinger, the mean bandit, the desperate female - but Portis takes these types and makes them real. The story is not set in a romantic wild west, but a more realistic post civil-war America.

The story is narrated by Mattie - at the time of the events she recalls, she's just 14, witnesses her father getting shot and hires a tough, mean Marshall (Rooster Cogburn) to hunt him down. He is reckoned to have the "true grit" of the title, and indeed he has.

It is Mattie's voice that provides the real joy of this book - it is a story recounted by an older woman, told with hindsight and tough Arkansas, homespun wisdom. The dialogue is told as richly as anything Mark Twain came out with; the shootouts are fast and brutal - and Mattie's voice brings it all to life, but without any flowery embellishment, just the dry, tough language of the frontier.

The great western stories are not about cowboys and gunslingers, they are about the passing of that age. True Grit, similar to Shane, gives us a hero who has fought the hard battles but is facing a ever more "civilised" world, one which he cannot really fit into.


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