Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

Vanguard Online February 1, 1999 0

“Brighton Rock is one of the most disconcerting books that you’re likely to read. Set on the English south coast in Brighton, the book centres on a protection racket struggling to keep a hold on its patch. The story starts with the mysterious disappearance of a journalist and as the plot unfurls it lets in more and more light on the antecedents to the disappearance which one eventually finds out is a murder. This murder, has much to do with the protection racket and even more to do with the ruthless and clinical youngster Pinkie, a leader and master tactician whose age belies his cunning.

What is interesting about Pinkie, is that he is so enamoured by his profession that it seems he has little time for anything else. Despite being highly respected by his gang members and various others, Pinkie is very much a loner who doesn’t really fit in with what’s going on around him. He rarely enjoys the company of his associates. If he ever smiles it’s wry and if he ever experiences deep emotion it’s either disgust or distrust. He represents that kind of void feeling which is present in us all when we’re travelling around in our oblivious public transport mode, or more accurately when we’ve lost the confidence in the warmth or sensibility of other humans and tried to seek solace in whatever kind of functionalism fills our lives.

Not surprisingly then, the story hinges around Pinkie’s attempts to cover up the murder, which eventually leads to more murder and an attempt to befriend and eventually wed a girl who was witness to a potentially incriminating event. It is at this point that the book departs from the exposition of the actions of the gang which constitute the first half of the book, and move more towards an exploration of the inner most thoughts of Pinkie’s Catholic mind as he contemplates arranging an illegitimate marriage and the mortal sin of consuming it.

The effect of the two seemingly disparate themes being weld together hints that perhaps Greene was sticking two different stories together in making this book. One minute your half-involved in a Mensa style problem solving task of who did what to whom and where does that fit in with something else, next minute your sharing in the fire eating agonies of a mind tortured by mortal sin and the concomitant prospect of everlasting damnation.

While the first part is page turning the second is a kind of morbid addiction. For those bought up with the wrath of God drilled into their psyche, Greene’s exposition of the guilt tortured mind is like seeing the inner workings of your brain splayed on to the pages in front of you. It’s like having to take a walk into a nightmare – your fear of the consequences being surpassed in intensity only by curiosity.

Added to the devils that race through Pinkie’s mind, was the fact that he seemed to have a genuine dislike of being married – especially to the nondescript Rose. The cloud with which his head resided seemed to exist somewhere between the sickening feeling you get having decided to take second best for the rest of your life, and the uncomforting suffocation one feels having to deal with the unshakable attentions of an unlikeable other. There was a daunting depression about his relationship with the pathetic Rose which was plunged only deeper by the guilt that both experienced as a result of their guilt. The only moments of spark came when Pinkie would stroke the bottle of skin burning vitriol that he constantly stored in his pocket.

All in all a fascinating book, although it is wise after you’ve finished your book, to go and realign yourself with all the arguments for why God wont burn you to death as soon as possible. Just to stay on the safe side eh?

Graham Greene
Brighton Rock
Penguin
1938

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