Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep and satisfying, taut and entertaining, 29 May 2011
This review is from: Brighton Rock (Paperback)
Having read this early Graham Greene novel at school as a set text, and seen the 2010 Rowan Joffe film based on it, I recently returned to it. And I'm glad I did. It's a near-perfect blend of thriller and psychological character study, though far more morally ambiguous than I remember from my schooldays - and all the more enjoyable for being so. On one level, it's the story of a gangland murder, one woman's attempt to bring the perpetrators to justice, and of the gang leader's attempts to thwart her. On another level, though, it's a battle between two world views: on the one hand, Ida Arnold's secular framework where `right and wrong' are opposing poles, and on the other, the Catholicism-imbued moral universe of gang-leader Pinkie and of Rose, where good and evil do battle. For the chillingly psychopathic young gangster (one of Greene's best portraits, in my view), Hell - with a capital H - is, tellingly, a place, whereas heaven is conceivable - and then only barely - as a word, an idea. And unsurprisingly, there is for him only eternal damnation in consequence of the murderous, brutal life he has lived and of his corruption of the hitherto innocent Rose.

On this description, you would not expect him to be an attractive character. But as J.M.Coetzee observes in his penetrating, if brief, introduction to this Vintage Classics edition, his antagonist Ida, for all her `righteous' indignation, is shallow beside him. Equally, Rose, witness to murder and more than complicit in evading the older woman's attempts to bring Pinkie to book, demonstrates a loyalty, and ultimately a shared desire to embrace damnation as Pinkie has done, that perhaps suggests a horrible, fatal attractiveness to the Catholic schema, with its absolutes and certainties, that Greene himself felt. Pinkie may be beyond redemption, his twisted psyche seeing the possibility of a turn to God as the `beast' that prowls at the edge of his life: `God knows what it could do' if it got in, he exclaims in panic at one point (261). But he is vulnerable, in some senses a (very angry) boy trapped in a man's body, fending off all feeling and any idea of mercy and forgiveness because he has never experienced them.

In the end, the reader, it seems to me, is invited to feel more than a little ambiguous as to the relative merits of the two worldviews, those of Pinkie and the crusading Ida. Greene's genius, though, is never to sacrifice the action to the complex ideas that both underlie the work and drive it forward. It's a suspense-filled book, and the result is a novel that is as deep and satisfying as it is taut and entertaining.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Aug 2011 23:23:24 BDT
Eileen Shaw says:
Best review in my opinion. Thank you.

Posted on 15 Apr 2012 20:43:01 BDT
Last edited by the author on 15 Apr 2012 20:47:59 BDT
"Ida, for all her `righteous' indignation, is shallow beside him"

I never thought so, given that she outshines Pinkie as a human being in every way, and rescues the novel from Greene's intentions.

At the time he was writing the novel, Greene was reading T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, and set out to echo the poem's snobbish denunciation of modern England. (The 'automatic hand' is there, too: the park attendant with a mechanical limb.) He was fond of boasting to friends that only Catholics were capable of spiritual reality - everyone else was 'invincibly ignorant'. Brighton Rock was meant to expound that thesis. But the more insults Greene piles on Ida, the more the novel rebels against his design. Ida (a name she shares with a Greek goddess, relating her to a pre-Christian era) comes to represent archaic motherhood - protective, vengeful - and eclipsing the male in every way. Pinkie ultimately is little more than a posturing child. Ida uncovers his crimes, starts the hunt to bring him to justice, and saves Rose from his plans. All this turns Brighton Rock into Greene's first novel of merit - thrilling, alive, compelling - pitting the insane pretensions of religion against humanity's common sense.
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Jeremy Bevan

Location: West Midlands, UK

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