Read of the Week: Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

A Read of the Week from Reader Leader Veronica, who runs Shared Reading groups in criminal justice settings. She’s recommended Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.

“Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him. With his inky fingers and his bitten nails, his manner cynical and nervous, anybody could tell he didn’t belong – belong to the early summer sun, the cool Whitsun wind off the sea, the holiday crowd.”

This opening to Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock illustrates how he will invite us into the story by enabling us to imagine the characters, visualise the scene and recognise the contrasts and contradictions of life. His brilliant powers of description combine with some perfectly apt similes and metaphors: “the crowd…uncoiled endlessly past him, like a twisted piece of wire, two by two, each with an air of sober and determined gaiety.” The isolation of the character Hale, contrasting with the couples who are concentrating on enjoying the Bank Holiday sunshine, points towards the horror to come.

As the story progresses, we are encouraged to consider what it is which draws people together and how others are alienated from one another. The contrast between Ida, with her strong ideas of right and wrong, and Rose, who only sees life in terms of good and evil lead us to recognise that these different approaches can bind or separate human beings.

Rose’s simple innocence is contrasted with Pinkie’s malevolence; “you might expect a hunter searching through the jungle for some half fabulous beast to look like that.” Yet these two characters are united by their background, their Catholic upbringing and their poverty: ‘“It’s nice here”, Rose said, as she gazed over the waste of green painted tables, the sauce bottles, the daffodils and the paper napkins.’

Whilst there are two film versions which you may have seen – the original with Richard Attenborough and the 2010 remake – I would urge you not to settle for these in place of Greene’s exquisite writing. I think it’s time for me to read this 1930s thriller again.

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