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Graham Greene: Brighton Rock

When Greene chooses to write a good vs evil story without writing to a thesis, he can turn out a very fine novel like this one. Greene himself says he started it a detective story and the first fifty pages are what remains of the detective story but, ultimately, the story is a good vs evil story. The evil is Pinkie Brown, Greene’s fallen angel, a gang leader whose driving force is to be a successful gang leader, doing whatever it takes to achieve that end. But he has a variety of implacable foes. There are bigger gangs in Brighton, who are his rivals and then there is Ida Arnold, who represents the forces of good.

We are forewarned of some of what is going to happen from the first line, when we learn that Charles Hale knows he is going to die and die he does, at the hands of Pinkie’s gang. What surprises us and surprises Pinkie is Ida’s involvement. She has only briefly met Hale but is determined to find out who killed him and why and her determination shapes the rest of the novel. Greene, of course, skillfully compares Pinkie, the repressed Catholic, with Ida, who is far more sexually liberated. He also throws in an excellent cast of supporting characters, from Pinkie’s Catholic friend, Rose, (whom he marries so that she won’t talk) to the dandy gangster Colleoni. But the real story is Pinkie’s inevitable rush towards damnation and the conflict this gradually brings to the fore in Pinkie. Pinkie may well be Greene’s best creation and this his best novel.

Publishing history

First published 1938 by Heinemann