Brighton Rock

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Category: Classic
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Date Published: September 28, 2004
Number of Pages: 288
Print Price: $10.88
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When journalist “Charles” Fred Hale, comes to Brighton, he is a condemned man, and he knows it. He is running from retribution by one of Brighton’s notorious gangs; with a cold-blooded, razor-wielding, teenage killer hot on his heels, his death is inevitable. In a futile attempt to save his own life, he picks up Ida Arnold, a vulgar, but good-hearted woman, who, by accompanying him, is supposed to serve as a possible witness to his murder, and thus prevent it from coming about. But Ida only needs to leave his side for a moment, and the gang seizes the opportunity to swoop in on its prey.

In Ida, Hale failed to procure a guardian who can save his life, but he unwittingly acquired an avenging angel to seek justice after his death. Once Ida realizes that Hale has been murdered she is consumed by determination to corner the murderer.

But the killer, Pinkie Brown, also known as “The Boy,” has another problem. A simple, childlike waitress, Rose has knowledge that could destroy his alibi. So Pinkie does what is necessary to protect himself from the law: he marries her so that she is unable to testify against him. Rose is young, impoverished, and love-starved. It’s not difficult for Pinkie to persuade her to this course of action, and she all too readily accepts his ersatz affections for the real thing. Rose goes through with this foolhardy matrimonial contract, but Pinkie is still dogged by Ida Brown, who is now not only determined to avenge Hale, but to save Rose from her new husband.

In Pinkie Brown, Graham Greene brilliantly succeeds in creating one of the least likeable characters in literature. Protagonists are generally objects of sympathy. Being privy to a character’s difficulties and emotions tempts one to wish them well, regardless of the demands of justice, but in this case, it is difficult to be so inclined.

Though too young to marry without lying about his age, Pinkie is already an absolute psychopath who remorselessly destroys anyone who oppose his goals – even his partners. He kills without compunction, but is repelled by the flesh. Being forced by circumstances to go though the motions of human affection is torturous to Pinkie. This is manifest in his reaction to finding out that when he proposes to Rose, it is necessary that he kiss her:

“She [Rose] came away from the wall and lifted her face to him. He knew what was expected of him; he regarded her unmade-up mouth with faint nausea. Saturday night, eleven o’clock, the primeval exercise. He pressed his hard puritanical mouth on hers and tasted again the sweetish smell of the human skin. He would have preferred the taste of Coty powder or Kissproof Lipstick or any chemical compound.”

Though Pinkie is unskilled at masking his revulsion, Rose remains willfully blind to this, so eager is she to believe that he loves her, in the way that she thinks that she loves him.

However, Pinkie and Rose do discover an odd connection between them: they are both Catholics, albeit peculiar ones. Pinkie is surprisingly unwavering in his belief. When Rose asks him if he “thinks it’s true,” Pinkie responds by saying, “Of course it’s true…What else could there be?” But he also is more firmly convicted of the existence of Hell than of any other article of faith. In a twist that is reminiscent of Calvinism, he firmly believes that he is intrinsically evil, and already one of the damned. Rose is more conventionally faithful, but her practice is casual at best. When a choice is before her, she is ready to join Pinkie in damnation for the sake of an illusory human love.

Interestingly, the character with the greatest moral conviction is Ida Arnold. She’s bawdy, and lacks any sort of religiosity, but is committed to bring justice for Hale and to protect Rose. In Confession, a priest tells Rose “a Catholic is more capable of evil then anyone … because we believe in Him, we are more in touch with the devil than other people.” This is demonstrated by Pinkie and even Rose, who sharply contrast with the purely natural, human goodness embodied by Ida.

The subjects of justice and mercy arise often. But the author treats these with uncertainty. The confessor (now famously) tells Rose that “You can’t conceive, my child, and nor can I or anyone, the … appalling … strangeness of the mercy of God.”  It’s plausible that this statement could be interpreted as ironic in the author’s intent, in light of a cruel surprise that awaits Rose. Yet, it could also be that this surprise is an occasion of God’s mercy, with the possibility that though it, her soul will be freed from the object that prevents true reconciliation.

It’s suitable that this novel ends with a degree of ambiguity. The story raises more profound questions than it provides apparent answers: What is the nature of right and wrong? Good and evil? The connection between faith and character? What is God’s mercy and how is it manifest? Populated by Graham Green’s distinctively sinful believers, Brighton Rock provides abundant material for reflection and discussion.

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Publisher:
ISBN-13: 978-0142437971
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches


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Erika Rudzis is a writer of prose and poetry. She graduated in 2011 from Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, CA, where she studied philosophy and theology. Currently, she resides in her native Seattle. You can read her personal blog at ReVeraCaraMea.wordpress.com and follow her and Twitter: twitter.com/ReVeraCaraMea .

2 Comments

Feb 1, 2015 Kaye Park Hinckley

Excellent review!

Feb 2, 2015 Manny

That is such a good novel. Great review. Graham Greene is one of the best. He was cheated in not getting the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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