Review: Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

Brighton Rock Graham Greene review

Brighton Rock – Graham Greene
First published 1938
This edition, Vintage, 2010

The first Graham Greene novel I read was The End of the Affair (you can see my thoughts here) and I was impressed by this short but complex story. In the comments of that post, I was recommended Greene’s Brighton Rock by Louise from Book a Week: A Challenge to Read 52 Books in a Year which encouraged me to push the book up my TBR and order a copy from the library.

Pinkie, leader of one of the mobs in Brighton’s underworld, has killed a man and is desperate to cover up his involvement in the murder. But he hasn’t counted on Ida, a woman who met the man when he was certain he was going to be killed. Courageous and full of life, she resolutely tries to discover the truth behind his death and bring those who killed him to justice.

I went in to reading Brighton Rock wrongly assuming it would be more like a murder mystery. But the murder happens within the first few chapters and we know who’s committed the crime. Yet the formidable Ida doesn’t and it’s this that adds suspense throughout the novel as the reader follows her getting closer to finding out the truth. Adding to the suspense, we can see from Pinkie and his mob’s perspective as they try to cover their tracks and throw her off the scent. Because of this, the first half of the novel is full of suspense as we watch Ida getting closer to the mob and Pinkie going to more extreme measures to avoid getting caught. The second half of the novel features less of Ida, which is a shame because she’s a fantastic character who adds light and humour to the novel, and it focusses more on Pinkie and becomes more of an analysis and critique of morality and Catholicism.

Brighton Rock tells a wonderful and fast-paced story and there were parts where I absolutely loved Greene’s storytelling. The ending – particularly the last sentence – is brilliant and memorable, which also leaves plenty for the reader to imagine even after the last page has been turned.

There is a cast of great characters in Brighton Rock which, despite the slower pace in the novel’s second half, still engrossed me in the story. There’s the confident and formidable Ida who is determined for justice to come to those who committed the murder, and the young and naïve Rose who, even though I felt infuriated with her at times, didn’t deserve to get caught up in the mobs. While these characters sometimes act as mouthpieces for Greene to write about Catholicism and morality, they are anything but two-dimensional. The mob leader Pinkie is young and I get the feeling that he is in too deep but his youth and ambition mean he’s desperate to prove himself. Rose, who knows too much about the events leading up to the murder for Pinkie’s liking, is naïve and young, but she shows strength in her decisions regarding Pinkie.

I loved Greene’s writing in The End of the Affair and I wasn’t disappointed by Brighton Rock. The seaside town of Brighton comes alive in Greene’s prose and I love the contrast between the happy, sunny, holiday town and the dark and menacing underworld of mobs and killings. There are wonderful descriptions throughout, too.

Brighton Rock is a well-written and tightly plotted book that I enjoyed reading. I’ve read various reviews that have said this novel is less polished than some of Greene’s other work, so I’m looking forward to trying some of his later fiction.

Have you read Brighton Rock? What did you think? Have you read any of Graham Greene’s other novels?



10 thoughts on “Review: Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

  1. For me, The Heart of the Matter is not just one of Greene’s best books but one of the best books I’ve ever read. In fact, though I usually declare Bleak House to be my all time favourite, The Heart of the Matter would come very close. Again, his themes of Catholicism and morality are there, as the main protagonist Scobie tries to negotiate his way through life without hurting anyone, but finds himself tied to people through pity rather than love – a pity that he takes so far it almost becomes prideful.

    But I also love The Comedians…oh, and The Power and the Glory! 😉

    • That’s quite the recommendation, perhaps The Heart of the Matter will be my next Greene book! Thanks for suggesting the others, too 🙂 I’ve only recently discovered Greene but he’s definitely an author I enjoy reading!

  2. Brighton Rock was my first Greene and I think it’s quite a god place to start with him. Have you seen the film that starred a very young Richard Attenborough as Pinkie? If not, it is well worth looking out for – one of the few films of novels that doesn’t diminish its source. My own favourite Greene is ‘A Burnt-Out Case’. It’s not one of the more famous novels but well worth looking out.

    • I haven’t seen the film, but I was wondering how the book would translate across. It’s good to know that it does the book justice! Thanks for the recommendation – another Greene novel to add to my list 🙂

  3. I’ve read a couple of Greene’s novels; some I loved, some I thought were just okay. My two favorites are The End of the Affair and Travels with My Aunt; and I really disliked The Stamboul Train. Haven’t read Brighton Rock yet, but I love your review of it.

  4. So glad you liked it. If you get chance, I’d recommend the old original movie with a v young Dickie Attenborough playing Pinkie. The ending is slightly different which is interesting.

    • Thank you for recommending it to me! I’d definitely like to see the film, it’d be interesting to see how it’s different/similar to the book.

  5. Unlike others who have commented on this post, I haven’t read anything by Graham Greene yet, though your review makes me more inclined to do so! From the synopsis it does sound like a straight-up suspense/mystery thriller at first, but it’s cool that it turns into a critique and analysis of morality and Catholicism. Glad you enjoyed this one – The End of the Affair looks intriguing as well.

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