6 July 2009

Graham Greene, Brighton Rock, 1938

Sometimes your most honest appraisal of a story can be found in the first words you say to yourself when you finish it: in this case mine were “That was, again, a fantastic book.” Greene doesn’t put a foot wrong in his story of the downfall of Pinkie, a teenage gangster on the streets of 1930s Brighton, after he commits one murder too many. Greene’s getting under the skin of Pinkie is a truly class act in characterisation, equally so his nemesis, the formidably convincing Ida Arnold, who gets to the root of things with the small help of a ouija board and plenty of female intuition. There’s something quintessentially British about it all, with everyone trapped in their own circumstantial worlds and their lives intersecting in ways that can’t help but point back to their own individual loneliness. How Greene does this I’m not so sure, and in fact to analyse that some more would take away much of the pleasure: Greene can dazzle you with his writing here, if you let him. Brighton Rock is also a very catholic novel about life, with Pinkie being a defiant exception to whatever rules life may have, his come-uppance conveyed in his refusal to countenance that ‘there’s always room between the stirrup and the ground’, even when time is at its most short. A benchmark of a novel in British literature, and one that can still make a particularly hard-hitting impression.  PY


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