Sunday, November 06, 2005

36. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

Brighton Rock book pictureI've read a couple Graham Greene books in the past (Ministry of Fear, the End of the Affair) but I don't think I was really old enough to appreciate them at the time. I was looking for good english crime and he is good at that, but his books also have so much more going on that I found myself a bit distant from the narrative the first time around.

Brighton Rock was on a friend's top 11 list and because I had a sense that I had not given Greene a real chance, I picked it up. I'm glad I did. From the first sentence that I was in good hands:

"Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him."

That's how you start a book.

The story revolves around a young psychopath who has elevated himself to the top of his small and small-time gang. There are several narrative threads going on, around and through the anti-hero, but the book concentrates on his own crazy mind and the actions that he does. This is an extremely dark book. Brighton is portrayed as a desperate, tawdry middle-class vacation spot where there is no success and less hope. Every metaphor is brutal, waves hitting pilings are like punches to the face, a shop window is a future of despair. The characters are confused, driven by fear or hatred.

The Boy (as the young gangster is referred to) is Catholic and has a twisted view of sexuality (and pleasure of any kind). Trying to close the trail of clues to several murders, he makes acquaintances with a young waitress and ends up having to marry her, which fills him with constant dread and disgust. It's almost funny (but it's so dark that it's not funny at all) the agony he goes through just trying to respond to her requests for a kiss.

Brighton Rock is a rich and disturbing study of a people, a place and a time. It's so tortured and painful that I can't say it's the most enjoyable read, but it is convincing and interesting and extremely well-written. Read this if you're feeling dark and mysanthropic.

1 comment:

Buzby said...

Excellent choice. I am quite a Greene aficianado and have read Brighton Rock a couple of times now. Your assessment is bang on.