Graham Greene rather modestly referred to this as the greatest novel ever written about Brighton. Heady praise indeed, considering he wrote "Brighton Rock"! I wouldn't like to argue who should be the victor between him and Patrick Hamilton, all I can say is that this is a very fine read indeed. It is the first of the Gorse Trilogy, about professional conman, and all-round thoroughly unscrupulous piece of work, Ernest Ralph Gorse. It starts off with a brief look at Gorse's schooldays, and shows how some of his dodgy tricks were manifesting even then. We then move forward a few years to Brighton in the 1920s. Gorse and two old schoolchums, Ryan and Bell, take to hanging out on the West Pier in Brighton, in the hope of picking up girls. They meet the pretty Esther Downes. Ryan is completely smitten, but Gorse seems to see her simply as somebody to hone his lethal charms on. When he finds out that Esther has a small nest-egg tucked away at home, he's given an even bigger incentive to get to know her! He starts taking her for cocktails at the Metropole Hotel, and amazing her with a flashy new car. Poor old good-natured Ryan doesn't stand a chance, particularly when Gorse starts up an evil poison pen letter campaign against him. The inevitable happens. Gorse manages, with tremendous cunning, to fleece Esther of every penny she's got, and then leaves her stranded at a hotel near Shoreham. He absconds to London with his ill-gotten gains. Esther may have been annoyingly dim-witted and naive about Gorse's true motives all through the book, but you genuinely feel sorry for her when she fianlly realises he's made off with everything she's got in the world. There is nothing of the loveable rogue about Gorse. He has no redeeming features at all.Read more ›
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Neat English Novel Set in Brighton,England, 1920s29 Mar. 2014
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"The West Pier," the first book of the Gorse trilogy,is a neat,well written book that serves as a fitting introduction to Ernest Ralph Gorse,English confidence man and swindler,the central character of the trilogy. The book starts out introducing the reader to the schoolboy Gorse,already given to pulling sneaky pranks on his classmates,and moves on to 1920s Brighton,England,where Gorse,as a young man,and 2 of his pals cruise the West Pier,in Brighton,looking for females,and, in Gorse's case,money. Gorse meets up with a beautiful working girl,who confides in him that she's some money salted away. Gorse then turns his full attention to the business of obtaining her money(all of it),using any means possible(lying about his background,using a fancy hotel for drinks,using a car that is not his,all to impress his victim,with the only real objective money,not love or romance). I found the book informative,given the author's discussion of the various English classes,as he does in his "Mr. Stimpson and Mr Gorse." He conveys a good sense of 1920s Brighton that I would guess true,having been to Brighton myself. The plot is well thought out,moves quickly,and kept my interest. The quality of the writing is superior to the second of the Gorse trilogies,"Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse,"in that the author does not treat us to the occasional tedium that afflicts that book. ((See my review of that book). Although the victim in "The West Pier" is not well off as the victim in "Mr. Stimpson and Mr Gorse" was, the plot is just as effective,and the ending similar.
Booze Cruise On The Pier12 July 2014
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This is Patrick Hamilton's last good novel. Though it's the first volume of a trilogy, the last two books can safely be ignored by all by those who want to read every word Hamilton wrote.
Clearly, his terminal alcoholism had destroyed his once first-rate second-class talent. Even THE WEST PIER shows that his ability to see nuances of ordinary life missed by more illustrious novelists was failing. The book is held together mostly by the mysterious "personality" of Gorse (apparently a fictional portrait of Neville Heath), which in the first pages of the novel Hamilton tells us is inexplicable.
A social psychologist might be less sceptical: Gorse is clearly a sociopath, a sadist, and unimaginative in any respect outside his desire to deceive others. Of course, labels are not the same thing as living characters in fiction, and Gorse does come alive on the page.
But his further adventures in the concluding volumes of the trilogy can be safely ignorned, particularly the last volume.
If only Hamilton hadn't succumbed to booze. A parallel from a later generation is Kingsley Amis, a great writer whose last books are very poor. There is a law of diminishing returns for novelists, but booze accelerates it very effectively (unless, of course, you die young , like Malcolm Lowry or Fitzgerald--and even then ....)