Graham Greene: An Approach to the Novels

By Robert Hoskins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR

Brighton Rock

Brighton Rock represents both a major achievement and a crucial turning point in Greene's work. Richly allusive, superbly paced in a quick, nervous style, with plot and imagery drawing upon the cinematic devices of cross-cutting and montage, the novel is as entertaining and suspenseful as any of the “entertainments, ” the category to which Greene originally assigned it. Brighton Rock carries on the study of a tormented criminal mind begun in A Gun for Sale; the novel centers around a character, Pinkie Brown, in whom Greene develops more fully, and with tragic overtones, the embittered, murderous antihero first presented in James Raven. Like Raven, Pinkie is young, vicious, alienated, unloved (until he meets Rose) and perhaps incapable of love; Pinkie similarly bears scars from a traumatic childhood, but unlike Raven's harelip his scars are internal and are given a Freudian explanation. Brighton Rock also continues Greene's presentation of a point of view through which the pieties and cheerful optimism of middle-class life are savagely attacked. In Greene's practice the method serves a narrative voice which projects a distinctly literary and usually soured romanticism as a dim backdrop to the often lurid melodramatic surface of contemporary life. It is a voice which will persist in later works in spite of other changes in tone and the conspicuous paring down of Greene's style, and in several second-phase books it will be identified with a narrator-protagonist. Brighton Rock also takes Greene into new territory as the first of the “Catholic novels” that would form the initial basis of his reputation as a major writer of his age.

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