Bill Taylor's Reviews > Brighton Rock

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
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's review
Dec 20, 2011

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Read in December, 2011

I read this book after listening to a review by the presenter of a BBC book club. It works on 2 levels which is presumably why it is regarded by some as a 'modern classic', written in the 1930's. One level is simply as a thriller following the actions of a small time gang leader, Pinkie, in his native Brighton. The other level is much deeper using the trials and tribulations of Pinkie and the wife he took on to prevent her from giving evidence against him to explore notions of good and evil in the context of the Catholic religion. I'm afraid that went pretty well over my head, not being a Catholic, and I'm reliant on JM Coetzee's 2004 introduction to explain.

On the simple level I enjoyed the thriller aspect to the book which leads you through the actions of Pinkie who is attempting to cover his tracks after murdering one of his rivals. I wouldn't say it was a particularly gripping read though. Greene's descriptions of everyday life in Brighton, and the contrasts with the gangs activities, are a joy to read, and gives it a great historical context.

That said, I find Greene's somewhat poetic style of writing difficult and unengaging. It also sits uncomfortably alongside the necessarily basic language of Pinkie and his chums. Coetzee quotes the sentence 'The huge darkness pressed a wet mouth against the panes' as an example of his expressionist power, but I'm afraid I find this sort of stuff too contrived.

Interesting why Greene didn't develop some of the other characters more - especially Ida Arnold. As for Rose his wife, she was really just a cartoon character - how could she have been so naive? And really, how could Pinkie ever have become the leader of the gang - a bit of a frightened boy really.

An interesting novel, but a bit flat really.


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