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Brighton Rock - Discussion

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I thought this novel was well-written, pacy and atmospheric.

The working-class world of the late 30s is portrayed quite vividly, whether trippers down from London determined to extract every last minute of enjoyment from their precious day out, or underpaid and overworked café workers like Rose, or the criminal fraternity of Pinkie and his gang in their seedy bed-sits. The relatively new bungalows strung out eastwards along the coast road are by no means depicted as visions of a bright new world (one can imagine Greene’s views) but somehow just as sad.

And Pinkie. What to write? He has no redeeming features. The Catholic background seems to have imprinted certain words in his brain but they are unconnected to his actions. Right and wrong apparently have no meaning for Pinkie or Rose but for them the notions of ‘Good and Evil are stronger’. Perhaps for Rose but aren’t they nothing but a religious mantra for Pinkie? I can’t work that out. However he does seem to know that he’s damned. And then there’s the strange admixture of Puritanism: in sexual matters, his ‘soured virginity’ doesn’t come from doctrinal teachings but from his childhood experiences of hearing and seeing his parents engaged in sex on Saturday nights. He’s not a drinker either. He’s a youth so full of hatred that you almost shrink from him on the page.

Buxom Ida is light relief thank goodness, and moves the narrative forward. As for Rose, I alternatively screamed at her and pitied her.

Some lines stay with me. Ida says of Hale ‘He wasn’t anything to anyone, that’s the trouble.’ The inspector in the police station ‘tried to hide a tin of fruit-drops behind the telephone’. Rose’s fidelity ‘touched him like cheap music’.

Yes, I admired the novel.

P.S.The oft repeated ‘betwixt the stirrup and the ground’ sent me to my book of quotations: it was a line in an epitaph written in C16 by William Camden

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I've been searching for something to say about this novel since I finished it around 12 days ago. Chuntzy's review, I'm glad to say, covers it.

 

I enjoyed the novel immensely. I liked the sound of the prose as I read it and I liked the juxtaposition of the seaside town, which I normally associate with holidays and sunshine, with casual gang violence. I also enjoyed the thirties era atmosphere.

 

Rose, I understood completely and I also understood Ida. Pinkie, however, was something else and I still can't figure out :

exactly why, since he was so disgusted by women, Rose in particular, he didn't just kill her. Was there some 'don't ever kill women' code of honour? Or was it, as he himself pointed out, 'do I have to kill everybody'?

I was also curious as to why he was called Pinkie, but this was never explained (perhaps I was supposed to work it out for myself, a good excuse - not that I need one - to reread).

 

I'm glad I read the book and look forward to reading more Greene - there is plenty to explore - I'm also looking forward to more comments as people finish the book.

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I was surprised to enjoy it too. As I said on the nominations thread, I hated The End of the Affair and it was enough to put me off any more Greene. But no, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoy Brighton Rock.

 

I liked Pinkie, I thought him a timeless teenage delinquent: disaffected, detached, resentful of his place in things...and probably quite damaged by his upbringing. I think he grew to care for Rose a little because she didn't ask anything from him that he didn't particularly want to give. She was the type of girl he could have the appearance of a normal life with - she didn't make demands on his time, money or conversation. The only think he seemed to care about was being the leader of the gang, the most feared in Brighton which I found at odds with his removed personality.

 

Ida, I actually found quite annoying. Her bravado and gusto seemed as empty and as much a pose as Pinkie's life. I found her shallow and she admits herself when she notes that bringing Hale's killers to justice is more about the excitement and because she can rather than anything else.

 

Toward the end, when Pinkie was taking Rose off to carry out his plan, I was very anxious and I was flying through the pages. It became very dark when the story was removed from the seaside and the pier.

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I was also curious as to why he was called Pinkie, but this was never explained (perhaps I was supposed to work it out for myself, a good excuse - not that I need one - to reread).

I thought about a couple of reasons. The first that occurred to me was that 'pink' suggested infancy and newness, highlighting Pinkie's youth and inexperience. An , of course, living by the sea and being born and raised in coastal air leaves people with pink, ruddy cheeks. So by calling him Pinkie, highlights the geography so important to his identity and his youth and inexperience.

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Rose was really just a cipher: the thing in-between Pinkie and Ida, the soul for them to fight for, she could have been anyone. I couldn't find her irritating at all really as she didn't offend in any way, a bit dim for sure, but that's all.

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I thought about a couple of reasons. The first that occurred to me was that 'pink' suggested infancy and newness, highlighting Pinkie's youth and inexperience. An , of course, living by the sea and being born and raised in coastal air leaves people with pink, ruddy cheeks. So by calling him Pinkie, highlights the geography so important to his identity and his youth and inexperience.
Good points. What surprised me, and thus made me notice it in particular, was the way it was spelt. Pinkie is your smallest finger and I wondered if it had anything to do with that.

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What surprised me, and thus made me notice it in particular, was the way it was spelt. Pinkie is your smallest finger and I wondered if it had anything to do with that.
Like he was the smallest of the gang of five? Smallest in stature, smallest in terms of human experience, smallest mind. Good point.

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Like he was the smallest of the gang of five? Smallest in stature, smallest in terms of human experience, smallest mind. Good point.
Yes, and he was still the leader of the gang because he had some kind of fearsome - and unspoken - reputation for cutting off pinkie fingers.

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I always took Pinkie to be that he as the smallest of the gang like your finger.

 

I remember really enjoying the book (I am not planning a re-read just yet though). I found it quite energetic on the whole and loved the way it moved around a Brighton that didn't seem too unfamiliar to the one I know and love.

 

I haven't read any other Greene but after this one I will probably read one at some point in the future.

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I remembered the movie from way-back, which was quite disturbing. I believe Richard Attenborogh played Pinkie. The director made a lot of surreal fairground scenes, squeals of joy and terror. I found the book, which I have just read for the first time, equally disturbing, as well as being gripping to the very end. What would happen to Rose, to Pinkie - (shush-shush!)

 

Of course, typcal of Greene, the theme of moral culpability and eternal damnation hovered over the whole thing, but without being too strident. To some extent Rose and Pinkie are cut-out figures from a medieval morality play, but the question of salvation-damnation is muted by the novel's totally realistic setting. We can almost believe in the protagonists, seeing them as real people - almost, and for the time of reading. Brighton is as real as a seaside postcard. Some of us can even remember Lobby Ludd, the disguised planter of clues who asked to be challenged by the newspaper's readers. Pinkie is the laddo gone absolutely vicious; a deprived adolescent who becomes depraved; a would-be leader with a massive chip on his shoulder. A fantastic (literally) creation.

 

But BR, thank goodnesss, eschews giving us a psychological portrait of the anti-hero. In this it made an interesting contrast for me with Faulkes's Engleby, where we are given an insight into how a criminal might be formed by earlier influences. But Pinkie has none of Engleby's sensitivity, nor his cunning, nor his intellect. Pinkie is, if there is such a thing, an embodiment of pure evil. He loves nobody, hates everybody, takes out his social and sexual frustrations on the gullible and has no remorse. You might say he is a cardboard cut-out character, but he is exactly what the plot needs in this smooth, efficient and exciting novel.

 

Here, in an interview with Marie-Francoise Allain, is what Greene said about his intentions in creating Pinkie:

I tried, as a sort of intellectual exercise, to present the reader with a creature whom he could accept as worthy of hell. But in the end, you may remember, I introduced the possibility that he might have been saved 'between the stirrup and the ground.' I wanted to instil in the reader's mind a fundamental doubt of hell.

I wrote this book, however, before Hitler, before the concentration camps. My viewpoint might be different now, for even if one persists in rejecting the ]idea of eternal damnation, how can one deny the existence of total evil?

 

This sounds very much as if he wrote the book to formula, but in spite of its didactic capacity, it stands up well as a thrilling novel of atmosphere, if not as a novel giving us true psychological portraits of mixed, fallible human beings with whom we can sympathise. The questions remain: does the author 'get inside' his characters; are they anything more than cut-outs? I have to admit that the answer to both these questions is a resounding negative. But then, that's the way it is; it's just that kind of novel: it's one of plot and atmosphere, with huge moral overtones, but not in the Leavis Great Tradition of English realism.

 

Footnote on Greene's treatment of sex in this and other novels. It's never a joyful experience, but always redolent of something nasty, symbolising perhaps Greene's obsession with what Shelley called 'the world's slow stain.'

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I really don't know what to write. I am so disappointed, this book did nothing for me whatsoever and I am not sure why. I wanted to like it, and I have liked other works by Greene.

 

I am reading everyone else's thoughts with interest, and although could see many of the themes which are being mentioned here whilst I was reading, I just wasn't transported to Pinkie's world. Does that make any sense?

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The director made a lot of surreal fairground scenes, squeals of joy and terror.
I think the setting of the seaside town was very clever. Seaside towns can be quite eerie places, hiding the promise of danger. The pier with the games and shows for the tourists, all happy and carefree, contrasting with the residents who just about tolerate the tourists, and the town that grows quiet and ghostly in the off season. The facade of fun hiding a town that puts on a temporary face. Much like fun fairs and carnivals that promise fun but can actually be quite scary.

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I just wasn't transported to Pinkie's world. Does that make any sense?
Of course, it didn't do it for you and that's not something you have to worry about or explain. There's plenty of books that don't do it for me - films too. I still don't get Bladerunner, or its popularity.

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After I waited for the book for a while, I just finished reading. I quite liked it, probably not my favourite read this year but not bad. I also liked The End of the Affair in a similar way.

I liked the way Greene described the characters, how you really love to hate Pinkie, try to understand Rose and Ida and all the other people in this novel.

Being Catholic myself, I found the religious part quite interesting. As Chuntzy pointed out, Pinkie used the prayers almost like a mantra without even knowing anything about the background except for the fact that he was "doomed".

I liked the seaside atmosphere, however, I can imagine it giving a great background for a movie (which I would love to watch now).

All in all, I am glad I read this book and would recommend it to my friends.

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........

I liked the seaside atmosphere, however, I can imagine it giving a great background for a movie (which I would love to watch now).......

 

I rented the film last week and thought, as you often do after reading the book, that it was disappointing. OK, at the time, it might have been quite atmospheric for a British film but certain things annoyed me like the actress playing Rose was evidently one of those 'nice' English actresses trying unsuccessfully to speak 'working-class' and often forgetting. And the ending was badly handled and not like Greene's version. Background info and the psychological aspects were missing but I had expected that.

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This started off in an interesting way but by about the halfway point I had given up hope of any interesting character development, or of anything happening that wasn't purely plot based.

 

I see on the older cover images that this was listed as one of Greene's 'entertainments'. So I did a bit of internet research. Critics seem to be lumping all his stuff in together these days but I think Greene himself realised that some of his books were far better than the others, and this was not one of the good ones.

 

I couldn't wait for it to end. Brighton Rock shows a world populated by caricatures, the doctrinal argument is facile - and, worse, repetitive - and I'm glad I've read some Greene before and enjoyed it because otherwise I might not have bothered with more.

 

(And so this doesn't seem like sour grapes, I want to add that I voted for it!)

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I finished this some time ago but have let my thoughts dwell on it a while before adding my comments. I can see all the points mentioned by others and agree with most of them.

 

Personally I found this not as menacing a read as I expected. The gangsters were not as frightening as they might have been. Is that because over the years our level of expectations have been altered by the visuals we have on the screen - large and small - as well as current literature of this ilk?

 

Having said that the characters seemed real enough but those that should have been ruthless - Pinkie and Colleoni especially - seemed as if they were merely going through the motions of trying to be criminals. Spicer and Dallow seemed more real. Ida and Rose were great characters for me, even Judy's dialogue was illuminating.

 

The religious element that ran through was subtle but powerful. Pinkie was a product of religious indoctrination for me, whereas Rose wore her religion as a second skin.

 

I loved the pace of the book, especially towards the end. However, one thing that really annoyed me was the chronology of the events. I could not get my head round the time the crime was committed in relation to the inquest, funeral, Rose's meeting with Pinkie, etc. Having watched the film after reading the book, I am still confused about this.

 

The other time element that confused me was Rose's statements to Pinkie in the restaurant when they first meet. First she says it's her first day, then she says it's her second day. Was she just confused - yet she is adamant about everything else that happened in the restaurant? Or did Greene make a mistake - surely not?

 

I still enjoyed the book - and the film to a certain extent even though they changed the ending.

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I still can't figure out exactly why, since he was so disgusted by women, Rose in particular, he didn't just kill her. Was there some 'don't ever kill women' code of honour? Or was it, as he himself pointed out, 'do I have to kill everybody'?
I think that is it exactly. After killing "Frank" the other killings were just to cover up that fact. Pinkie was, I think, amoral about murder and his frustration showed when he made that point. I think later on he says something like "Does there have to be a massacre?" He just wants the problem to go away.

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I finished this a couple of days ago but have only just had the opportunity to post. Initially I didn't think I was going to enjoy the story but as I went on I got more and more involved. I love Graham Greene's prose. His way of describing things or, more often, not describing things fully leaves me wanting to read more and find out why he wrote something or where he was going with the story.

 

Initially I liked the character of Ida but found her a little tiresome later one. Rose was a little one-dimensional I feel. Pinkie (the original angry young man?) was fascinating and his immaturity was brilliantly played out. The only character I felt could have been developed more (or at least his story) was Colleoni.

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I enjoyed this book far more than I expected it to - having accumulated quite a few Greene novels I've always avoided reading them for some reason. The aspect that interested me most was Pinkie and Rose's catholicism. Both of them, especially Pinkie, clearly grew up with a brand of religion that had a very bad effect on them. I found what the priest says at the end very intereseting and hopeful and consequently I found the very end of the book quite devastating as you know that whatever hope Rose is left with will soon be gone.

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Unsurprisingly, since we have spoken at some length about it, I tend to agree with Kimberley’s assessment. Brighton Rock starts well but fades and drags.

 

The initial chapter, following Frank around as he plays Colley Kibber, is well done. We have hints of dark secrets, menace and fear. He is clearly meant to be the star of the show. It was therefore a dramatic surprise that by the end of the first chapter, he was dead. I assumed, then, that the rest of the novel would show us the way subsequent events played out whilst exploring how the characters had come to the present situation. Sadly, the latter part of this expectation went unmet. None of the characters seemed to have any history – any past. We never discovered why Frank had to be dispatched; we never really learnt about Kite and his role in the process. Even details of the murder were hazy. It apparently involved Brighton rock in some way but I’m not sure we ever found out how.

 

As Kimberley said, I found the characters two dimensional. This is exemplified by the repeated reference to Pinkie as “The Boy”. Was the only remarkable thing about him his age? His cronies seemed to be interchangeable and I was never quite sure how many of them there were. They just seemed to pop up from nowhere simply to walk out. Rose seemed to be the least well formed character. She seemed to lurch from being painfully naïve to being the arch schemer. Her love for Pinkie was never really explained: was she just very lonely; was she desparate; was she gullible. It didn’t seem to be consistent. At least Pinkie was consistent.

 

Or was he? He seemed to be variously worried about the hangman and assured that he was too young to hang. This could have been pursued a bit when he had to invent an age to marry Rose – but this was a missed opportunity. He seemed to be repulsed by women (which, in combination with his chromatic surname I assumed had given him the name Pinkie), yet he chose to marry Rose rather than kill her. He was teetotal until he suddenly hit the drink. He was ruthless until it was in his interests to act ruthlessly.

 

Ida was, as people have said, irritating and somewhat far fetched. Why would she have taken such an interest in Frank whom she had barely met? Why would she disbelieve the inquest’s verdict of death by natural causes? Why would she spend serious money on detective work in a city she had only been visiting?

 

For a plot driven novel the plot was thin to the point of being malnourished. And there were so many opportunities to build in intrigue. Instead it just progressed further and further into paranoid confusion and some rather boring religious posturing that felt entirely hypothetical. Gangsters who carve and kill do not make convincing theologians.

 

So, a disappointment for me. If there were highlights it was the detailing of 1930s seaside Britain; the mixture of swank and squalor. It was sobering to think that just a year after the book was published (perhaps 3 years after it was written), all the detail would be swept away by war. It was a window on a very brief moment of history. But the view through the window was just a bit second rate.

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We never discovered why Frank had to be dispatched; we never really learnt about Kite and his role in the process.
Frank was dispatched because he supplied information to Colleoni who murdered Kite. Kite was Pinkie's predecessor and very much liked by Pinkie (insofaras Pinkie could like anybody).

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Frank was dispatched because he supplied information to Colleoni who murdered Kite. Kite was Pinkie's predecessor and very much liked by Pinkie (insofaras Pinkie could like anybody).

Was this ever explicit? And if so, what sort of information could Frank have had to pass on to Colleoni, and why would he have done so? It just felt very unspecific and vague.

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Was this ever explicit? And if so, what sort of information could Frank have had to pass on to Colleoni, and why would he have done so? It just felt very unspecific and vague.
Yes, it was explicit, the way I read it anyway, I'll look through the book and post a page number/quote later. The information was time and place of where Kite would be, as to why, I'll need to look it up.

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    • By Mad Dog & Glory
      Having finally finished The Time Traveler's Wife last night (yes, I know, I'm a bit behind), I was left feeling a little dissatisfied. I loved it for around 200 pages, but then I thought it tailed off badly and left a lot of unanswered questions. Not only the time travel - I had no problems with suspending disbelief, although the most unbelievable part was that they were allowed to lead a 'normal' life, rather than Henry being captured and studied by the US government.

      It's the so-called 'normal' life that concerns me. It seems incredible that I could read a 500+ page novel centring almost exclusively on two characters, and at the end not really have much of an idea of each other's personalities or how they went about their daily lives. At one point, Henry buys a lottery ticket knowing the result and wins several million dollars, so Clare can have a studio. No other mention is made of this. So are they millionaires? They seem to live in normal-sized house, in a normal street. So what do they do with themselves when Henry isn't time travelling? They're not watching TV, as Henry can't. They can't spend all of their time in bed.

      The other huge problem with the novel is lack of conflict, which is essential to all drama. Henry and Clare have this 'perfect' relationship, and are only unhappy with each other over the miscarriages. There were all sorts of potential themes and conflicts that Niffenegger shied away from. Why does Clare never question the fact that this man came into her life at the age of 5 and, as they say, ruined her for other men?
      Niffenegger seems so intent on making this the perfect love story that she misses a lot of tricks.

      My guess is that Audrey Niffenegger will be a one-hit wonder. She came up with a brilliant idea, and also came up with a good structure (although some disagree), and played out every permutation of time travelling possible. But in the end a great idea can get you only so far, and I don't feel she has the skills as a novelist to get as much out of the story as was potentially there.
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