Monday, 20 April 2009

Brighton Rock

My friend and I filling the gaps in our reading by reading those Classics we "should have" but never did, all of those unread Penguin Modern Classics sitting unopened on the shelf. First up was Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.

Jumping to the Afterword, or the Note to American Readers, if I may, I have to comment on how amusing and illuminating I found the editor's comment to be:

"Brighton Rock is a form of sticky candy as characteristic of English seaside resorts as salt-water taffy is of the American. The word 'Brighton' appears on the ends of the stick at no matter what point it is broken off".

Of course it seems perfectly reasonable to me that readers outwith the UK would not know what rock was but not knowing is also alien to me as it is ingrained into my consciousness, an intrinsic part of visiting the seaside (and not to be confused with Edinburgh rock, which is an entirely different sweet/candy). However, in saying that, I have never read the title of Brighton Rock and thought of the hard, sticky, and minty goodness; I always thought Brighton Rock was a location (an imagined one perhaps, albeit in Brighton). It was only when the symbolism and importance of the book's title was revealed, about 2/3 into the novel, that I realised that this was why the book was a classic . Until that stage I found it likable: the setting is gritty and sinister, as are the majority of characters; the main protagonist, Pinkie, is a great anti-hero; the drama is engaging and well-paced but the revelation of sheer literary intelligence and a great plot mover and device captured my imagination. It was then that I became full of admiration for the text and for Greene, realising why Brighton Rock is such a renowned and popular modern classic.

The rock from Brighton is crucial to the plot, it is a means and a symbol and a detective fiction clue. It is symbolically representative of the novel's good vs. evil theme. As Ida, the heroine, says in response to "People change":

""Oh, no they don't ... It's like those sticks of rock: bite it all the way down, you'll still read Brighton. That's human nature."

Of course exactly how Brighton Rock becomes the means of killing Hale, a journalist, remains one of those great literary questions, such as what exactly the something nasty was that Aunt Ada Doom saw in the woodshed? How did Pinkie's mob use the Brighton Rock to kill Hale?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He chokes him on a stick of rock