True Grit by Charles Portis – Folio Society Edition

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Wow. Folio Society have done it yet again – True Grit is another fabulous book which I feel has the whole package, beautifully put together, slipcase, illustrations (by Juan Estaban Rodriguez), a brilliant introduction by Donna Tartt – all these elements lend themselves seamlessly in bringing this classic to life – in gorgeous technicolor.
I have to be honest here and say that I’ve never read the book before, I’ve also never seen the original film (1975) or the most recent adaptation (2010) – so who better to review this book, than someone who doesn’t know what they are letting themselves in for, and who hasn’t been manipulated or swayed by other representations of this fine literary work.
I do have to say from the outset that I have a love affair with the wild west, if there was a time period I could return to and live through it would be the dust plains of America, it’s just such a cool time period. From the clothes, the outdoor lifestyle, the hard way of life, how justice was served out, how people survived, bandits, Native Indians the whole period is something I love – it’s just something that I’ve always wanted to live through.
Of course when I was little I wanted to be a cowboy, I’d watch black and white Westerns with my dad and pretend to the the sheriff, he’d always find a way of getting away as he always played the outlaw, but then I’d chase him down with my noble steed (an upturned broom) and get him in jail before the end of the film. So, I went into reading True Grit with some high expectations and a bucket full of nostalgia – and boy did this book and this edition serve up all I was craving.
The book is written in the first person from the point of view of our main protagonist Mattie – a young girl who sets out on an adventure to find her fathers killer. Mattie meets along the way the rugged Marshal Rooster Cogburn and La Boeuf (La Beef) – and with these two in tow Mattie departs into the great unknown to find her fathers killer and to serve a slice of her own justice.
What I really loved about True Grit was the first person narration that takes place, it’s not so easily done, but Charles Portis shows that he is a true master and keeps the reader invested in the story which at times moves at breakneck speed – never once does his voice falter (writing as a young girl), and he writes most deftly and beautifully about a young girls struggles in a place and time that men ruled and women did what they were told.
Having said that I have a love affair with the wild west and cowboys – the only other western book I’ve read is The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt which was phenomenal. And I have to say True Grit is in the same ballpark for its brilliance. Everything I wanted from a Western novel was packed in there – shootouts, bandits, the landscape, the way of life – everything. Every tiny detail is added in blinding clarity by Charles Portis to make one fully immersive experience and the illustrations by Juan Estaban Rodriguez just heighten this experience and give the reader what they crave – and that my friends is a big fat slice of the wild west.
The illustrations by Juan Estaban Rodriguez further highlight the wonderful imagery that Charles Portis painstakingly puts across in his writing – from the breathtakingly beautiful cover art, to the illustrations within – each part of this book is exquisite in its production. The palette that Rodriguez uses is a choice one at that – bringing in dusty / sandy browns, burnt yellows, and charred oranges to create images that drawn the reader into this marvellous story and in doing so give them a sense of place and time. The colours used and the choice of illustrations Rodriguez employs seem to transport the reader directly into the story for a multi-sensory experience that is hard to beat. No better example of this can be found other than the illustration of Rooster Cogburn in the court room (picture above). You can feel the heat of the room, the eyes on him, the chatter of those watching, the dust in the air – it’s no mean feat to transport a reader with such ease, to have them living out the words that they are reading and Rodriguez does that time and time again.
I’d advise if you are coming to this book fresh like I was, without knowing the story or the history behind this book, you may want to skip Donna Tartt’s introduction and return to it once you’re finished as it has quite a few spoilers in it. I stopped reading her introduction after a couple of pages as I found it was telling me too much of the story, and returned to it after I’d finished. Which I would advise you all to do, as the introduction is terrific and it gives a great insight into the books staying power over the years and the hold it has on Tartt and other readers – it holds a special place in peoples hearts, in Donna Tartt’s heart, and it now holds one in mine!
True Grit is a true masterpiece – and this edition is one that Charles Portis would be proud of I’m sure, a coming of age tale that can inspire generations of young women that they can achieve all they set their hearts and minds to.
The Folio Society edition of True Grit by Charles Portis, introduced by Donna Tartt and illustrated by Juan Estaban Rodriguez is available exclusively from

Charles Portis

Charles Portis was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, in 1933. Having served in the Marine Corps during the Korean war, he studied journalism and later moved to New York to work for the Herald Tribune. He began writing fiction full-time in 1964, publishing his first novel, Norwood, in 1966 and True Grit in 1968. Both of these have been adapted into successful films, True Grit twice. His other full-length novels are The Dog of the South (1979), Masters of Atlantis (1985) and Gringos (1991).

Juan Estaban Rodriguez

Juan Estaban Rodríguez is a freelance illustrator based in Valencia, Spain. He studied Fine Arts there and started working on small commissions in 2012. His work since then has focused on film and gig posters as well as editorial. Clients include Lucasfilm, Warner Brothers, Scientific American and Foreign Affairs magazine.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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