Brighton Rock Paperback – 7 Oct 2004
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In a class by himself-the ultimate chronicler of twentieth-century man's consciousness and anxiety' -- William Golding, Independent
A gang war is raging through the dark underworld of Brighton. Seventeen-year-old Pinkie, malign and ruthless, has killed a man. Believing he can escape retribution, he is unprepared for the courageous, life-embracing Ida Arnold. Greene's gripping thriller, exposes a world of loneliness and fear, of life lived on the 'dangerous edge of things'.See all Product description
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Review: I will begin with a warning. If you are looking for a little light reading then I suggest you look away now, as Brighton Rock is nothing of the sort. It’s dark, it’s heavy, and it’s frankly pretty depressing. However, this does nothing to dull the fact it is also compelling literature that manages to unsettle, frighten and fascinate all at the same time.
I have put this book in the category of ‘thriller’ but in reality it defies categorisation. As well as a murder novel, there are also elements of a psychological thriller plus a sustained exploration of morality and human nature.
The aspect of Brighton Rock that stood out for me most was the characters. Greene’s main character Pinkie is controversial and fascinating. He may be a razor-blade-wielding psychopath, but despite this I still could not bring myself to completely hate him. I found this very unsettling, but it can probably be attributed to a sense of pity I felt for Pinkie and the utter bleakness of his existence, ‘Heaven was a word: hell was something he could trust.’
It may be desperation to escape an equally miserable life as an underpaid waitress that drives Pinkie’s girlfriend, Rose, to remain obsessed with her misogynistic and abusive partner. Her naïve and needy attachment paints a saddening picture, even if such passivity is enough to make any modern woman cringe.
Ada is the only character that acts as a source of brightness in the novel. She is jolly and pleasure-seeking yet maintains a strong sense of principle. Not only is Ada there for entertainment, Greene uses her as a central point for the book’s moral exploration. However, I found that the endless contrasts drawn between her and Pinkie became a little heavy-handed at times.
Characters remain the central point of the novel, with complex relationships and an uneasy combination of friendship and mistrust. However, there is also has a strong plot with a careful balance of description, character development and action. The tension is expertly maintained; with such an amazing opening line ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him’ it is impossible not to keep reading.
Brighton Rock is the sort of book that leaves you with more questions to wrestle with than answers. Many of these major questions are as relevant now as they were in the 1930s. Are people inherently good or bad? Are we simply the consequence of our upbringing? And what is the making of a murderer?
Favourite quote: ‘You been in love?’ the Boy asked sharply and uneasily. ‘Oh yes,’ Rose said. The Boy retorted with sudden venom, ‘You would have been. You’re green. You don’t know what people do.'
Not really a criticism, but worth knowing what you're in for. If you are looking for your spirits to be raised by a trip to the seaside you had better turn elsewhere.
Brighton Rock starts its murky odyssey with an almost senseless crime, which is given only the sketchiest of motives. We are introduced to Pinkie, the leader of a gang offering protection services to bookmakers. Pinkie at 17 is thrust to the head of the gang after the accidental death offstage of Kite. Pinkie is the book's dark engine, an unknowable psychopath with an intense hatred of all about him due in part to his squalid impoverished upbringing. It is he who is responsible for the first murder, and a succession of others as his crime slowly unravels due to the remorseless pursuit of the good hearted Ida. Brought up as a Catholic the book offers occasional insights into his spiritual calculations, taking a certain pride in his assured damnation .
Into his clutches falls Rose, an accidental witness. She becomes Pinkie's girlfriend though the relationship is a grotesque - Pinkie seldom disguising his loathing for her sex, her modest attractiveness and lack of position in society. Greene shows us Pinkies thoughts to us, as he nurses a vitriol bottle, with which he will scare or scar, or coldly tries to push her into taking her own life as his sins come crashing down about him.
A tawdry portrait of cheap amusements, limited ambitions and selfish, short sighted stupidity, wickedness and evil, Brighton Rock is a kind of masterpiece in its evocation of the limited thrills of the seaside and the racecourse. You will feel the need to wash your hands afterwards however.
The story itself isn't complex; we follow the life of Pinkie, who leads a mafioso-like gang in Brighton, but finds it increasingly difficult to maintain order amongst his troops and his position with regard to other gangs. He meets Rose, with whom he starts a relationship. For me, the most fascinating aspect of the story is Rose's willingness to be deceived by Pinkie, her desire to believe his rather unconvincing show of love. By the end of the book, the tension is palpable, and I was gripped, waiting to find out how it ended. I wasn't disappointed at all. Overall, I would strongly recommend this classic.
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