Now that I’ve read Norwood, and having previously devoured The Dog of the South and True Grit, by my reckoning I only have Gringos, Masters of Atlantis and Escape Velocity (a miscellany of Portis’ non-fiction, short stories and a drama - compiled and edited by Jay Jennings) left to go! Yikes! I am eking them out, because although each of his books is infinitely re-readable, there is nothing quite like discovering a gleaming new gem for the first time.
What can I say about Norwood? I simply adored it. Portis writes the most uncluttered prose imaginable and employs a deceptively simple style, yet he has the eye of a poet. The writing flows with such ease it can sometime deceive the reader into thinking that the author doesn’t seem to be working very hard at all. Simple stream of consciousness stuff you may think - think again! Portis’ use of language is masterly, the characterisations are wonderful and the dialogues his cast enter into, sublime. It strikes me as verging on the criminal that Norwood was actually out of print for a while. Hurumph!
I suspect that Charles Portis is underrated because his instinct as a writer is always to make us smile, and it seems to be the way that the literati only truly respect and value a writer if by the end of their novels the main characters are either dead, dying, or so utterly devastated by their experiences that we understand they’ll never manage to smile again. Portis is a dead loss when it comes to dishing-up pain and angst; he only ever seems to want to nudge his characters along with gentle nurturing. He can however paint a picture with a very few words: “Vernell was Norwood’s sister. She was a heavy, sleepy girl with bad posture.”
I’m not going to give a blow by blow account of what happens in Norwood, how it starts and ends in Ralph, Texas and all the humorous stuff that happens in between - it’s a slim read, find out for yourself. For my money this is a superbly-crafted book and deserves its place on my favourites shelf. I feel a lightening of the heart and a turning-up at the corners of my lips just thinking about Norwood Pratt. I will most certainly be re-reading this again very soon.
The blurb on the back of my copy tells the tale of a Portis fan who hesitated over proposing to the woman he loved and hoped to marry until she had read and pronounced her verdict on Norwood. I’m very pleased to say that Judith, who was ‘buddy reading’ it at the same time as me, was heard chuckling along most agreeably - divorce proceedings may not be imminent!