Book Review: Brighton Rock

Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene

I must admit I am a bit puzzled why this book is considered to be among Greene’s “great” novels instead of among his entertainments.  To be sure, this novel delves very deep into the practical outgrowths of English Catholicism [1], even if it is through two spectacularly poor representatives of religious faith and understanding in the young leader of a Brighton gang trying (unsuccessfully) to preserve his place in the face of murderous competition from an older and smoother and wealthier opponent, and in his child bride from the seedy side of the city, whom he marries to prevent her from being able to give testimony against him in a murder case where he happens to know just a bit too much.  Yet it is puzzling how this novel is considered one of Greene’s “great” novels when it is the sequel of one of his most obscure ones, A Gun For Sale, which may not even be in print anymore.  Life is strange that way, there one novel about the cycle of violence in 1930’s Brighton is forgotten but its sequel is hailed as a classic–very strange indeed.

This novel of a bit more than 250 pages is divided into seven parts, and is clearly tragic in its undertones.  The book begins with the movements of a man who knows that he is doomed, and happens to meet a demimonde woman of a rather unsympathetic nature who serves as the force for “right and wrong” in the novel despite being an immoral woman who searches for clues on a ouija board and scoffingly looks down on the religious beliefs of others throughout the book.  In fact, I read this novel hoping that she would somehow end up cut up or something equally unpleasant like that which happens for many of the people in the novel, alas, I had no such luck.  Much of the novel consists of a spurious and false-dilemma battle for the soul of the young child bride between her despicably evil husband, whom she marries in a civil ceremony although both are underage, and the repulsive Ida.  It is only with the arrival of the priest at the end that we have a more reasonable option for the young widow to deal with, as she goes to confession and tries to put her life back in order.

Ultimately, this novel is deeply interesting but also deeply flawed.  Too much time is spent by the author dealing with the fate of subordinate members of the gang that no one cares about.  Not enough time is spent explaining or showing the key events of the story.  Much of the novel consists of repetitive and/or tedious explanations of something that happened, fears and premonitions about something that may or may not happen, or outright lies and attempts to manipulate others into doing what one wants them to do, all with some of the most unsympathetic characters one can imagine.  When the doomed journalist going on tour to present himself for recognition by readers of a London newspaper and a timid but stubbornly loyal child bride are the only sympathetic characters your novel has, you are not doing a good job.  It is likely the book’s religious language that made it a classic to some, but the book’s characterization and plot are not up to the highest level one would see in Greene’s writing.  Sometimes a book just needs someone to be a genuine hero, to live nobly despite the grubbiness of the world around us, and to set an example that someone should want to follow, but this novel does not provide that.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: Brighton Rock

  1. Pingback: The Devil Inside | Edge Induced Cohesion

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