Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
Pinkie, a boy gangster in pre-war Brighton, is a Catholic dedicated to evil and damnation. In a dark setting of double crossing and razor slashes, his ambition and hatreds are horribly fulfilled, until Ida determines to convict him for murder.
This is one of my all-time favourites, so I allowed myself a brief deviation from my reading list to enjoy it again.
Beginning the novel with a man in fear of his life, Greene submerges us into the criminal underworld of Brighton in the 1930s with a spine-breaking thump. The irrevocable murder of Hale sets off a chain of events which the young leader of our gang naively attempts to salve, continuing to do further damage to his masquerade of innocence.
Pinkie is an incredibly complex and flawed character. His youth plays a huge part in his ill-informed decision making and regrets, alongside his troubled upbringing, of which we are only allowed to understand small parts. His sudden promotion to leader of his gang sparks a type of impostor syndrome, and it’s painful to see him attempt to channel his predecessor. He rarely shows emotion other than anger or fear, and his lack of soul is paramount in his macabre uprising. For me, Pinkie is one of the most terrifying characters in fiction, purely due to his mental state.
Rose is probably my favourite character here for the purposes of importance and examination. Dragged into the spectacle which is Pinkie’s gang attempting to get away with murder, she becomes an important witness in the case against them. Pinkie’s solution to this is to seduce, and ultimately marry her in order to prevent her testifying against him. Rose is portrayed as a weak character, willing to do or say anything she’s told to, and lives in unwavering belief that Pinkie loves her, and that all will be well in the end. Her naivety, in comparison to Pinkie’s, is a different kind, yet bears the same level of risk. Her intense hope in the future is so heart-breakingly pure that I can’t help but love her.
Greene does wonderful things here with Brighton; the setting, the sights and smells, the custom - it’s all so perfectly portrayed and utterly, utterly wonderful. The pace of the plot rises and falls so accurately, with the characters’ pontificating and lamenting sections contrasting well with Greene’s use of tension in others. He also makes an excellent job of personifying the gangsters; in many crime novels these types of characters are merely painted as the bad guys, but Greene gives us men with feelings, dreams, flaws, and family. Glorious.
This really is a true classic, and nothing much can top it for me. I could wax on until I run out of oxygen, so the final thing to say is that if I could put this book on a sandwich and eat it, I would have it for every meal.