So my first book of the year has been read and it was quite an experience in many ways. ‘Brighton Rock’ is a book that I think a lot of people have read already, or indeed studied, or certainly heard of at some point in their lives. I think I was bought a copy by Granny Savidge Reads way back in the dark ages when I didn’t really like reading and so sadly have no idea where it went. It’s a book that I have often been told ‘you really must read’ and therefore, being the way I am, its one that I have somewhat veered away from. However having seen the trailer for the new adaptation in the cinema and really wanting to see the film it felt rather fateful that the next day in the library I saw a copy that seemed to have my name on it.
‘Brighton Rock’ tells the tale of an antihero in the form of Pinkie Brown, a young leader of one of two gangs running and trying to rule the streets of 1960’s Brighton. It’s not giving anything away to say that the book starts with the murder of Charles Hale, who we know through most of the story as Fred, who betrays one of the gangs of Brighton and the final hours leading up to his demise. By chance Fred meets Ida Arnold, who is such a wonderful character its almost untrue, a woman he tries to keep with him to save his skin and who is lead into action because of his death. Throw in Pinkie and his role in all of this, along with his chance encounter with a young waitress called Rose who could become the perfect alibi which could also lead her into more and more danger. Can Pinkie silence everyone around him and get away with it? Can Ida save Rose from Pinkie and their unlikely love affair whilst avenging Fred?
You could be a bit lost right now as though Graham Greene makes this all seem relatively simple… I haven’t quite. You might be also be thinking ‘blimey there is a lot of this story that seems to be by chance and coincidence’ and you would be in the position I was in about a quarter/half way through. I couldn’t 100% get my head around why Ida cared about a man whom she had met once on a chance encounter or why she was so desperate to save Rose from Pinkie. I just had to let go of that and enjoy the story for what it was and Ida for who she was. I have to be honest with and say Ida stole the show for me and every chapter with her in was guaranteed to have me gripped. Pinkie is a fascinating character, especially as his feelings for Rose develop both for good and bad, yet he isn’t likeable which doesn’t matter, just occasionally makes for harder reading, especially as I couldn’t see what Rose saw in him.
That’s not to say the rest of the book didn’t have me at hello because despite the initial confusion of Charles being Fred and also “Kolley Kibbler”, on assignment to anonymously distribute cards for a newspaper competition, followed by the fact Greene also calls Pinkie ‘The Boy’ (and then their are the two gangs and some of their members nicknames) I was actually rather into the book early on. ‘Brighton Rock’ actually made me read slower when I started to struggle, only I didn’t give up, something (quite possibly Ida) made me carry on reading. It was just wonderfully written in a fantastic prose which managed to stun you with its simplistic beauty and be gritty rather than flowery all at once, and the atmosphere of a slightly bleak and darker Brighton is done to perfection.
I am aware that I haven’t mentioned the points on Catholicism this book makes, that’s because it wasn’t the focus of the book for me and I don’t really want to open that particular can of worms either Though not quite being the pitch perfect read I was expecting or hoping for ‘Brighton Rock’ forced me to read slowly, to think a lot, get through the quagmire like bits (I do wonder if the dreary Brighton portrayed was so vivid it made me feel a little dreary reading it) and enjoy the story and characters while it led to its fateful dénouement. 7/10
It does seem rather strange that I have found my first review of 2011 much harder than any of 2010 to write. I wonder if it’s because I am slightly out of practice or the fact that this particular book is hard to encapsulate, especially with such mixed emotions about it. I am hoping its not an ominous sign. Maybe I should have let the book lie a little longer in my mind? In fact I am now getting most cross with myself for not feeling like I have done the book justice and explaining enough why I thought it was a truly remarkable novel and yet also occasionally an underwhelming one all in one go. Grrr!
I am not sure if it is the same for everyone but the first book I read each year does have quite a bit of pressure resting on it. I want something that will set the mood for my reading year, something good, something that I want to talk about in the hope this will lead to others. I think Graham Greene’s classic novel ‘Brighton Rock’ was just such a book. Even though on a couple of occasions I wasn’t sure it would be; it forced me to read slower, it had highs and lows (though the highs won), it felt like a real story, it was flawed and yet wonderfully written, as were some of its characters, most importantly it held me even when I might not have wanted it to. You can’t really ask more than that in a book and hopefully it’s set the scene for some corking reading in the year to come.
This book was spotted by chance at my new local library.