Book Review: Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

Graham Greene’s prose has an astringent, vinegary quality.  He’s not a florid stylist like Truman Capote, William Faulkner or Vladimir Nabokov.  Instead, his writing is pretty tight–few wasted words and peppery dialogue.  It is almost as if Brighton Rock is constructed only of the scaffolding–no window treatments, no finished flooring.  Yet, at the end of this book, I marvelled at how much Greene had achieved with his minimalist style– a generously formed description of 1930’s Brighton and the depths/distortions of the human spirit.

Brighton Rock tells the story of Pinkie Brown–a small town gangster, who by birth, if not by profession, is a Roman Catholic.  Pinkie is none too sure of heaven but he’s convinced of the reality of hell and damnation.  He’s particularly fixated on his own damnation.  Pinkie is involved in all sorts of gangster activity beginning with an atmospheric act of murderous violence in which Pinkie is the ringleader.

Not all went according to plan and Pinkie realizes that he has to cover his tracks if he wants to avoid the police and imprisonment.  He’s surrounded by gangster confederates, whom he only half-trusts, and a very damaging potential witness to the crime by the name of Rose.  It is Pinkie’s relationship with Rose and his craven attempts to woo, impress, wed, protect (?) and care for her that takes up the majority of the narrative. Along the way, the reader is exposed to the seaside culture of early 20th Century Brighton, vivid descriptions of poverty and lawlessness.

The book begins and ends very well.  Greene is a master at suspense.  And what made this book shine so much is that the suspense comes amidst the banal, the ordinary, the everyday, the psychological.  This is no James Bond adventure with flying jet packs and high-powered gunfights.  However, the last 60 or so pages read well and are so extraordinarily crafted, they rival Ian Fleming or even Stephen King for their impact. Greene takes the reader into Rose and Pinkie’s confidence–we’re witnesses to a marriage just begun and falling apart, human cruelty, and deep, profound questions of the Christian faith.  Highly recommended.

What to listen to when reading this:  What else but Queen’s Brighton Rock?


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