Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

Study of a psychopath…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Kolley Kibber has come to Brighton on a publicity campaign for his newspaper. He will walk the streets and any lucky reader who spots and challenges him will be given a cash prize. But on this day, Kolley Kibber – real name Charles “Fred” Hale – is scared. He knows that a Brighton gang he has written about is after him, intent on killing him. He feels he’ll be safer if he’s not alone, so tries to pick up one of the female day-trippers down from London to enjoy the beach and the bars and the sunshine. Ida Arnold is a kind-hearted good-time girl, who takes pity on this lonely stranger. But she leaves him for a few minutes to visit the public toilets and when she returns he’s gone. Later she hears that he has died, and doesn’t accept the report that his death was natural. She sets out to investigate. Meantime, Pinkie Brown, leader of the gang, is worried that one of his men may have done something that will give them all away just when it seems they have got off with murder. As his paranoia increases, he becomes caught in his own trap, every action he takes to avert the danger seeming to diminish his options more and more.

I loved Graham Greene with a passion back in my teens and twenties, but on a couple of recent revisits I’ve been a little disappointed. This is one I’d never read before and I’m delighted to say the old magic returned in full force as soon as it began. The first chapter is a masterclass in writing, creating fully-rounded and empathetic characters in Kolley Kibber and Ida Arnold, portraying wonderfully this seedy, poverty-ridden seaside town in the 1930s, and building a terrific atmosphere of tension and suspense. Although Kolley Kibber only appears for this short space of time, his disappearance and death hang over the rest of the book, so that his character becomes as unforgettable as those who are present throughout the whole book.

Ida is also an exceptionally well-drawn character, the beating heart of the book, with her warmth and joy in the act of living giving it the humanity it needs to relieve the otherwise pitch-black noir of the story. Later we will meet Rose, a young girl whose background is of such deprivation, both materially and emotionally, that she is easily persuaded to fancy herself in love with any boy who shows her attention, easy prey for Pinkie who comes to see her as a threat.

Richard Attenborough as Pinkie and Carol Marsh as Rose in the 1947 film of the book

But the star of the show is undoubtedly Pinkie, the boy gangster who too readily sees murder as the solution to all problems. This has to be one of the best character studies of a psychopath ever written. Greene gradually shows us what has brought Pinkie to this point – his unhappy childhood, the poverty and lack of opportunity for boys like him in the grim Depression-era world, the guilt and punishment inherent in his Catholic religion. Pinkie believes in Hell but can’t quite bring himself to believe in Heaven, at least not for the likes of him. His disgust at the idea of sex raises all sorts of psychological questions – is it because he lived in a house so small that as a child he could hear his parents performing their weekly conjugal rites? Or is he a closeted gay, closeted so deep he’s unaware of it himself? Or is he simply scared to show any kind of vulnerability, to perhaps fail at the crucial moment? Greene raises all sorts of questions about what may have made Pinkie who he is, but wisely leaves open the possibility that it’s simply a matter of nature. And yet, rotten though he is, Greene gives him a terrible humanity of his own – a lost and damaged soul for whom it’s impossible not to feel sympathy, to wonder whether if circumstances had been different he might have been saved, by man or his implacable God.

The suspense in the story comes from two angles. Will Ida succeed in learning the truth and getting some kind of justice for the man she briefly met and scarcely knew? And Rose – what will happen to Rose? All she wants is to be loved – is that too much to ask? But loving a boy who dislikes and fears her and who has already killed more than once – what will happen to Rose? As Pinkie fingers the bottle of vitriol he always carries in his pocket – what will happen to Rose? The tension of worrying about Rose becomes almost too much to bear.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Samuel West, and he does a wonderful job. Every word is clearly enunciated and while he doesn’t “act” the characters, he breathes life into their varied personalities. He lets the words speak for themselves, never letting his performance get in the way of the writing.

Graham Greene

Beautifully written and with a quartet of distinctively unforgettable characters, this has leapt into the lead as my favourite Greene – high praise indeed from a lifetime fan of his work. While it’s one of his “Catholic” novels, the religious aspects avoid the silly mysticism of The End of the Affair, reminding me more of the faith struggles of the priest and Scobie in The Power and the Glory and The Heart of the Matter respectively. And they play only a small part in what is first and foremost a brilliant noir depiction of a psychopath in a superbly evoked time and place. A fabulous book which gets my highest recommendation!

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….“But I do beg you will not countenance that thoughtless way people have of flinging them up into the air. It is liable to do great harm, to confuse their intellects; and a girl, when grown into a woman, has greater need of her intellect than a man. It is a grievous error to fling them to the ceiling.”
….“God’s my life!” cried Jack, pausing in his stride. “You don’t tell me so? I thought they liked being tossed up – they laugh and crow and so on, almost human. But I shall never do it again, although they are only girls, poor little swabs.”
….“It is curious, the way you dwell upon their sex. They are your own children, for all love, your very flesh; and yet I could almost suppose, and not only from your referring to them as swabs, a disobliging term, that you were disappointed in them, merely for being girls. It is, to be sure, a misfortune for them – the Orthodox Jew daily thanks his Maker for not having been born a woman, and we might well echo his gratitude – but I cannot for the life of me see how it affects you, your aim being, as I take it, posterity, a vicarious immortality: and for that a girl is if anything a better assurance than a boy.”

~The Mauritius Command by Patrick O’Brian

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….That same day Rachel couldn’t remember which side her father had parted his hair on, and she’d realized again what she’d learned at five when her mother left – that what made losing someone you loved bearable was not remembering but forgetting. Forgetting small things first, the smell of the soap her mother had bathed with, the color of the dress she’d worn to church, then after a while the sound of her mother’s voice, the color of her hair. It amazed Rachel how much you could forget, and everything you forgot made that person less alive inside you until you could finally endure it. After more time had passed you could let yourself remember, even want to remember. But even then what you felt those first days could return and remind you the grief was still there, like old barbed wire embedded in a tree’s heartwood.
….And now this brown-eyed child. Don’t love it, Rachel told herself. Don’t love anything that can be taken away.

~Serena by Ron Rash

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….“But you do believe, don’t you,” Rose implored him, “you think it’s true?”
….“Of course it’s true,” the Boy said. “What else could there be?” he went scornfully on. “Why,” he said, “it’s the only thing that fits. These atheists, they don’t know nothing. Of course there’s Hell. Flames and damnation,” he said with his eyes on the dark shifting water and the lightning and the lamps going out above the black struts of the Palace Pier, “torments.”
….“And Heaven too,” Rose said with anxiety, while the rain fell interminably on.
….“Oh, maybe,” the Boy said, “maybe.”

~Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

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….Madam Flemington and the minister sat opposite to each other, silent. He was evidently trying to make a beginning of his business, but his companion was not in a mood to help him. He was a person who wearied her, and she hated red hair; besides which, she was an Episcopalian and out of sympathy with himself and his community. She found him common and limited, and at the present moment, intrusive.
….“It’s sma’ pleasure I have in coming to Ardguys the day,” he began, and then stopped, because her eyes paralysed his tongue.
….“You are no flatterer,” said she.
….But the contempt in her voice braced him.
….“Indeed, that I am not, madam,” he replied; “neither shall it be said of me that I gang back from my duty. Nane shall assail nor make mock of the Kirk while I am its minister.”
….“Who has made a mock of the Kirk, my good man?”
….“Airchie.”
….The vision of her eight-year-old grandson going forth, like a young David, to war against the Presbyterian stronghold, brought back Madam Flemington’s good-humour.
….“Ye may smile, madam,” said Duthie, plunged deeper into the vernacular by agitation, “ay, ye may lauch. But it ill beseems the grey hair on yer pow.”
….Irony always pleased her and she laughed outright, showing her strong white teeth. It was not only Archie and the Kirk that amused her, but the whimsical turn of her own fate which had made her hear such an argument from a man. It was not thus that men had approached her in the old days.

~Flemington by Violet Jacob

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So… are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….“We are deciding which gowns and kirtles to take to Greenwich next week, my lord,” Elizabeth explained to her husband. “I have so many new ones and Lady Verney is kindly modelling them for me so that I can see how they look.” She nodded at Eleanor to carry on and the king watched attentively as the model demonstrated an elegant green brocade gown, showing how the skirt flowed behind her as she walked, and the full marten-trimmed pink sleeves, tied with silver laces, were draped from the elbow to show the tight cream-embroidered linen sleeves of the kirtle beneath. His obvious interest led me to surmise that the world of female fashion was something of a mystery to him.

~The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson

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….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. They came in by train from Victoria every five minutes, rocked down Queen’s Road standing on the tops of the little local trams, stepped off in bewildered multitudes into fresh and glittering air: the new silver paint sparkled on the piers, the cream houses ran away into the west like a pale Victorian watercolour; a race in miniature motors, a band playing, flower gardens in bloom below the front, an aeroplane advertising something for the health in pale vanishing clouds across the sky.

~Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

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….Walking back to the door, avoiding the broken floorboards, she realised something else had been bothering her all this time. And now she knew what it was: that smell from her dream last night, it was in here too.
….The room spun and suddenly all she could smell was that cloying stink, She needed to get out, needed fresh air.
….She waited, listening for anyone outside in the corridor, because she didn’t want them to find her here.
….When she turned the handle, it wobbled but the door didn’t move. She tried again, this time putting her weight behind it.
….The latch. The fucking latch. Why had she let it close behind her?
….She wrenched at the door handle, twisted and turned it, pushed and pulled. Come on, come on. Rattled and shook it. Move.
….At last the handle began to shift and she pushed down harder, shifted her weight backwards. And the handle came off in her hand.

~The Guest House by Abbie Frost

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….He pretended to notice Wield for the first time, went close to him and put his mouth next to his ear.
….“Ah, Sergeant Wield,” he murmured. “Any messages for me?”
….“No, sir,” said Wield. “Not that I know of.”
….“Not even from the other bloody side!” bellowed Dalziel. He looked as if he was about to thump the sergeant with the paper.
….“It’s all a mistake, sir,” interposed Pascoe hastily.
….“Mistake? Certainly it’s a bloody mistake. I go down to Birmingham for a conference. Hello Andy, they all say. How’s that Choker of yours? they all say. Fine, I say. All under control, I say. That was the bloody mistake! You know what it says here in this rag?”
….He unfolded the paper with some difficulty.
….“It has long been common practice among American police forces to call on the aid of clairvoyants when they are baffled,” he read. “I leave a normal English CID unit doing its job. I come back and suddenly it’s the Mid-Yorkshire precinct and we’re baffled! No wonder Kojak’s bald.”
….Pascoe risked a smile. Lots of things made Dalziel angry. Not having his jokes appreciated was one of them.

~A Killing Kindness by Reginald Hill

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From the Archives:

….A small world might seem limiting, but think of the pleasure in owning a world the size of a small town and surveying the domain like a colossus. The gravity of Wild 2 is so weak you would literally be as light as a feather. A small push and you could escape your world and sail into deep space. And think of the glittering minerals – a hoard magnificent enough to power all the dreams ever dreamed.

~Dreams of Other Worlds by Chris Impey and Holly Henry

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So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 231…

Episode 231

I seem to be in  major reading slump this week and not one of the 213 (up one) books on the TBR is calling my name! I can only hope the postman has gone on holiday and doesn’t visit till I get back in the swing…

Here are a few that hopefully will tempt me soon…

Lit-Crit

Scotland’s Books by Robert Crawford

I bought this ages ago in one of my periodic fits of feeling I ought to know my own literary heritage better. I assumed, wrongly, that it would be one of these list-style books, like 1001 Books Before You Die, etc. It turned out to be a hefty tome full of essays on various aspects of Scottish literature. Not what I was looking for at the time, so it has lain neglected on my shelves ever since. Time to bite the bullet and see if I can struggle through it… and maybe even learn something! 

The Blurb says: From Treasure Island to Trainspotting, Scotland’s rich literary tradition has influenced writing across centuries and cultures far beyond its borders. Here, for the first time, is a single volume presenting the glories of fifteen centuries of Scottish literature.

In Scotland’s Books poet Robert Crawford tells the story of Scottish writing and its relationship to the country’s history. Stretching from the medieval masterpiece of St Columba’s Iona – the earliest surviving Scottish work – to the imaginative, thriving world of twenty-first-century writing with authors such as Ali Smith and James Kelman, this outstanding collection traces the development of literature in Scotland and explores the cultural, linguistic and literary heritage of the nation. It includes extracts from the writing discussed to give a flavour of the original work, full quotations in their own language, previously unpublished works by authors and plenty of new research. Informative and readable, this is the definitive guide to the marvellous legacy of Scottish literature.

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Historical Fiction

The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson

Courtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley. This one caught my eye because I’ve just finished reading a history of the Yorks, so for once I actually know who Elizabeth of York is! Better read it quick before I forget again… 

The Blurb says: Elizabeth of York, her life already tainted by dishonour and tragedy, now queen to the first Tudor king, Henry the VII.

Joan Vaux, servant of the court, straining against marriage and motherhood and privy to the deepest and darkest secrets of her queen. Like the ravens, Joan must use her eyes and her senses, as conspiracy whispers through the dark corridors of the Tower.

Through Joan’s eyes, The Lady of the Ravens inhabits the squalid streets of Tudor London, the whispering walls of its most fearsome fortress and the glamorous court of a kingdom in crisis.

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Adventure

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. When I saw they were bringing out a new edition of this adventure story, I couldn’t resist! Who doesn’t need a bit of swashbuckling in their lives every now and then? Doesn’t it sound like fun?

The Blurb says: ‘If love were the only thing, I would follow you-in rags if need be … But is love the only thing?’

Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda is a swashbuckling adventure set in Ruritania, a mythical pocket kingdom. Englishman Rudolf Rassendyll closely resembles the King of Ruritania, and to foil a coup by his rival to the throne, he is persuaded to impersonate him for a day. However, Rassendyll’s role becomes more complicated when the real king is kidnapped, and he falls for the lovely Princess Flavia. Although the story is set in the near past, Ruritania is a semi-feudal land in which a strong sword arm can carry the day, and Rassendyll and his allies fight to rescue the king. But if he succeeds, our hero and Flavia will have to choose between love and honour.

As Nicholas Daly’s introduction outlines, this thrilling tale inspired not only stage and screen adaptations, but also place names, and even a popular board game. A whole new subgenre of ‘Ruritanian romances’ followed, though no imitation managed to capture the charm, exuberance, and sheer storytelling power of Hope’s classic tale.

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Fiction on Audio

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

I loved Graham Greene when I was young, but have been rather disappointed by a couple of his books I’ve read recently. This has left me scared to revisit the ones I adored. This is one I’ve never read before and is considered one of his best, so fingers crossed it will revive my love. It’s narrated by Samuel West.

The Blurb says: A gang war is raging through the dark underworld of Brighton. Seventeen-year-old Pinkie, malign and ruthless, has killed a man. Believing he can escape retribution, he is unprepared for the courageous, life-embracing Ida Arnold. Greene’s gripping thriller, exposes a world of loneliness and fear, of life lived on the ‘dangerous edge of things’.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Audible UK or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?