Brighton Rock

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

brightonrock

RATING: ★★★★★ (5/5)

Graham Greene has solidly established himself as one of my favourite writers. His stories are masterful observations of the inescapable ambiguity of life and the ways in which humanity tries to fight against or through these unavoidable grey areas. Greene’s writing style itself is a deceptive ambiguity– coming across simple or straightforward at first, only to wind into beautifully unique turns of phrase and metaphor. In this novel, Greene chooses to swan-dive into the murky subjects of religion, love, and crime, themes returned to in much of his writing. Besides the wonderfully twisting ‘thriller’/’crime-drama’ plot (with a buxom middle-aged, working class sensualist woman cast as determined private eye), is Greene’s attention to a well-placed detail, bringing at once a truthful humor and deliciously melancholic realism to his story (the seventeen-year-old gangster’s room is perpetually covered in pastry crumbs, the priest in the confessional has an audible cold, a pub owner who is excellent at ironing is revealed to be blind in the last act). In this dedication to realism, Greene shapes characters that are uncompromisingly flawed, as well as familiar. Greene lays out characters’ morally questionable actions with such careful psychological insight that they are made understandable, pushing to the verge of empathy, though Greene never falls into the common trap of revealing a non-objective bias; in this way, the reader is made to constantly come to their own conclusions and analyze their reactions, resulting in a read that is gratifyingly complex and stimulating.

Though Greene categorized Brighton Rock as one of his “entertainments’ (ironically, Greene divided his work into two genres: “entertainments”, what he deemed lesser mystery or crime thrillers supposedly aimed at popular audiences only; and “novels” or more traditionally ‘literary’ work), it’s no simple pulp read. Greene chooses to swan-dive into the murky subjects of religion, love, and crime, themes returned to in much of his writing. Besides the wonderfully twisting ‘thriller’/’crime-drama’ plot (with a buxom middle-aged, working class sensualist woman cast as determined private eye), is Greene’s attention to a well-placed detail, bringing at once a truthful humor and deliciously melancholic realism to his story (the seventeen-year-old gangster’s room is perpetually covered in pastry crumbs, the priest in the confessional has an audible cold, a pub owner who is excellent at ironing is revealed to be blind in the last act). In this dedication to realism, Greene shapes characters that are uncompromisingly flawed, as well as familiar. Greene lays out characters’ morally questionable actions with such careful psychological insight that they are made understandable, pushing to the verge of empathy, though Greene never falls into the common trap of revealing a non-objective bias; in this way, the reader is made to constantly come to their own conclusions and analyze their reactions, resulting in a read that is gratifyingly complex and stimulating.

—On a related note: I recently came across the 2010 film adaptation which received rave reviews but I don’t think I could bring myself to watch it based on the poor casting: the casting director/ director seem to have aged most of the character up about fifteen to twenty years. I was especially irked by the decision to cast Helen Mirren as Rose– Mirren is far too bony and sharp for a character that is supposed to ooze a sort of Demeter-maternal-sensuality (the illustrated depiction on the above book jacket is a great example of what I did picture) . I would have loved to see someone like Claire Rushbrook (you may recognise her as the timid-yet-plucky Pat Simms in Home Fires or, more recently, Pauline Einstein in Genius.). The role of Pinkie’s girlfriend was also given to Andrea Riseborough who is about the opposite of a frail, delicate, plain 16 year old…I will give them credit for Sam Riley in the role of Pinkie though, as he does have disturbingly dead and resentful eyes! I may someday get around to watching the original 1947 adaptation, featuring a baby David Attenborough as Pinkie.—

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