Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

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.

24 Comments

Filed under Graham Greene, Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

24 responses to “Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

  1. The book certainly had its problems, a few plot holes and the ending was a bit ‘hollywood’ but I was able to overlook this all and enjoy the story and the strong characters. I still gave it 4/5 and I had to read this slowly but I think thats purely Greenes writing than anything. I’m looking forward to watching the remake which I’ve heard is told more from the female characters point of view.

    • I think I have a lot to be grateful to ‘Brighton Rock# for actually and mainly the pot holes as it made me really think how I have been reading and that sometimes its not the best books that make the most impact as a read. Maybe that sounds bizarre?

  2. *sigh* another book that goes on the virtual TBR from your recommendation…

    • Hahaha I am pleased I havent put people of Yvann as when I read it back I thought I sounded really negative and I didnt feel that way about this book at all. I admit it wound me up in parts but overall it was great.

  3. I agree with you about reading slower when tackling this book,I had to do the same. I had to re-read parts to clarify certain points and possibly my reading experience was better for it, because I could absorb the prose more fully.

    I loved the drama and atmosphere created within this book, even when the author was describing the surroundings.

    This is a great book to start off the year.

    • You put it exactly the way I wanted to when you say ‘ I had to re-read parts to clarify certain points and possibly my reading experience was better for it, because I could absorb the prose more fully.’

      Its really given me some food for thought on how I read… and how I review.

  4. What a great start to your year! You’ve made me want to read it – I’ve seen the film hundreds of times (the original, with the amazing Hermione Baddeley as Ida) and my Mum’s a huge fan of Graham Greene. My first reads of the year have been Roald Dahl – I don’t know what that portends…

    • I think Helen Mirren is going to be AMAZING as Ida. Glad my review didnt put you off, I was worried I was slightly scathing in parts (which was how I felt on a few occasions) but overall it won me round.

      Roald Dahl can only prtend a fabulous year of wonderful reads, how could it not?

  5. novelinsights

    This one has been on my list for ages after reading The End of The Affair and Our Man in Havana. It may have to wait a little longer as I’m not in the mood for over thinking but what a good review. It was really clear who / what you did and didn’t enjoy about it and I feel from your description that I too would love Ida.

    • Oh how I loved The End of the Affair, despite it being a tale of woe in many ways I think of it incredibly fondly, in fact more and more fondly over time. I think I am waiting for another of Greenes books to have just that effect again.

      You will definitely love, love, love Ida!

  6. gaskella

    I love Graham Greene’s books, and must re-read this one. I know what you mean about first book of the year – mine’s Moby Dick and I’m struggling!

  7. Love Graham Greene, love Brighton Rock. You’ve made me want to go and re-read it *right now*. Instead I have to sit in an office doing the day job … sigh.

    Just discovered your excellent bookish blog. A great read – I’m sure I’ll revisit often 🙂

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  10. I’ve just read that Brighton Rock has been made into a film, due to be released on 4th February. I’m wavering somewhere between excitement and anxiety.The former because of the excellent cast; the latter because I’m wondering how close to the book it’ll be. I hate it when scriptwriters and directors take too many liberties.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/brighton-rock-the-movie/sixties-brighton-rock-helen-mirren-sam-riley

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  13. Adam

    Just for the record Brighton Rock is not set in the 60’s, nor is it written in the 60’s. The film that just came out last year updates the year so that it can be set against mod’s and rockers. I do not know how well this works because I have not yet seen the film but I will do so when it comes to DVD. The original book is I believe set in the 1930’s and there is a film version in the 1940’s (1947) which stars Richard Attenborough, he gives a great performance, as does the lady playing Ida. Worth checking out if you dig old films, particularly B+W, still stands the test of time rather nicely too.

  14. ian Duffin

    I wouldn’t bother with the remake of the film. I’ve seen both and the Attenborough version of Pinkie is far superior, although curiously the ending of the remake is rather more faithful to the novel.

    The ‘Catholic’ element of the novel is , incidentally, central to understanding it and should not be neglected. As a lapsed catholic I can remember when younger having Pinkie’s certainty about the existence of hell but not heaven – it does rather colour one’s view of the world !
    I think both Rose and Pinkie’s religious views are important to understanding their characters and help partly to explain why Rose continues to stick to Pinkie to the end. The theme of redemption is very much a catholic one and Greene I think is exploring to some extent the validity of this concept when applied to someone like Pinkie. The novel is partly a portrayal of good and evil after all.
    The other reason why Rose is attracted to Pinkie is the very emptiness of her own life – an emptiness that Pinkie sneers at on at least one occasion so it seems as though he partly understands the attraction.

  15. very interesting to read this all. Can we follow you on twitter?

    I am going to read Brighton Rock as we speak and hope I will like it as much as you did.

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