Brighton Rock by Graham Greene is one of many classics which occupy the list deep in my mind titled “Books I need to get around to reading at some point”. A list utterly distinct from the “To read next” list which is what I mostly get through. I’ve recently joined the book club at work and this is the current book. So I was actually feeling quite lucky, two birds with one stone! Sadly I’ve not been as fortunate as I believed, Brighton Rock was not a piece of work I enjoyed. More about what I disliked over the spoiler-ridden break:
After a short introduction in which one character, Hale, is murdered we have the literary equivalent of film-noir as one character, Ida, investigates the murderer and tries to save the girl. Brighton Rock concentrates a lot on metaphors and symbolism. The title itself referring, according to one character, the fact that human nature doesn’t change and with Brighton itself used as a metaphor for hell. Which is perhaps a little harsh although I haven’t visited! Outside of this the book uses vivid first person characterisation.
From my viewpoint this is where Brighton Rock falls down. Outside of the teenage psychopath, Pinkie, I didn’t really believe in any of the characters or understand their actions. Brighton Rock rests upon the audiences relationship with Rose. If you don’t feel nervous for Rose and the possibility of her murder then there’s no tension, suspense or a great deal of narrative drive. Both Ida and ourselves know very early on that Pinkie is the murderer afterall.
With Rose I just didn’t understand why she was both so protective, and so in love with Pinkie. He didn’t have the greatest ability to hide his emotions afterall and right from the start of their relationship he bullied, threatened and just wasn’t very nice. The only thing about Pinkie that I could see being attractive, from Rose’s point of view, is that he must have seemed slightly glamorous and older than his years. This doesn’t in any way help me to come to terms with her actions with Rose, in her point of view, ensuring eternal damnation in hell just to be with Pinkie. Without a belief in Rose as a person even the twist at the end, that Rose is going to realise just how much Pinkie hates her also lacks emotional impact.
Outside of this though I thought the book tried a little too hard to be literary. Very unsubtle use of motifs, metaphors and commentary on morality. I’m not someone who always finds this with literary work: one of my favourite books is To Kill A Mockingbird which is both strong, and subtle in this area.
Brighton Rock is a well-depicted murder novel set in the 1930s but left me feeling a little cold. There’s plenty of topics to discuss in the book club and it’ll be interesting to see whether others found Rose a distancing or endearing figure. It has been made into a film again recently although I’ll probably give it a skip. Incidentally Helen Mirren does not strike me as an Ida.