I was talking to James and Ian a couple of weeks ago about how you don't seem to see Western novels any more. So when I saw this, bathed as it is in glowing reviews from scores of big names, I thought I'd give it a try. It's pitched as a great American classic to rate alongside Huckleberry Finn but I enjoyed it less than I thought I would.
Its greatest strength is the narrative voice of Mattie Ross, who tells us how, aged 14, she set off into Indian territory to hunt down the man who murdered her father. Mattie, writing in the early 20th century, is now an ageing spinster and Portis captures her voice perfectly: she digresses frequently into her political opinions and offers various pieces of advice. She also recounts her story in the plainspeaking fashion befitting her character.
The plot is somewhat weaker. Mattie spends much of the novel finding and recruiting Rooster Cogburn, a shoot first, ask questions later US Marshall who possesses the "grit" she requires.
Once she has persuaded him to lead the hunt and the pair have been joined by a Texan, LaBeouf, the book is half done. This means that the potentially interesting hunt is dealt with quickly and without much in the way of twists and turns.
Rooster's character is complex and subtly drawn. His gradually changing attitude to Mattie is humourous and believable.
LaBeouf is a little less developed. I kept expecting something interesting to be revealed about him but nothing came.
True Grit is a quick and easy read. It's not unenjoyable but nor is it essential.