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Literature: Brighton Rock

One of Graham Greene's better-known novels, Brighton Rock (1938) is set in 1930s Brighton, and describes the fall of Pinkie Brown, a 17-year-old boy who takes charge of a mob. After murdering a newspaper reporter, Fred Hale, Pinkie thinks he has successfully got away with it until a woman who had been with Hale on the day, Ida Arnold, decides to pursue him for the crime he has committed. He is increasingly driven toward desperate means, further murders and eventually attempting to kill his newlywed wife and himself. He is successful only at the latter.

The novel deals with numerous themes, including the nature of morality, and comes from a strongly Roman Catholic perspective largely owing to it being the writer's religion. It has also been adapted twice into film once in 1947, and once in 2010, which gave it a shift in period to the mods-and-rockers era.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Amateur Sleuth: Ida Arnold acts as this, after becoming suspicious about the murder of Hale.
  • Amoral Attorney: Prewitt, as the one who supports Pinkie's plans and illegally marries him to Rose.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Not a typical example of the trope, but Pinkie manipulates Rose into marrying him so she can't give evidence for the murder of Hale.
  • Anti-Villain: The morality of the characters is complex, but Greene certainly regarded Ida - the cheerful, open hearted amateur sleuth who takes Pinkie on - as the most evil character in the book.
  • Asexual: Pinkie is disgusted by the thought of sexual relations, having watched his parents do it every Saturday in his youth, and feels ill every time he feels any suggestion of desire.
  • Chekhov's Gun: the bottle of vitriol.
  • The Chessmaster: It takes a long time for Pinkie's fall to come, simply because he manages to find a way around every problem that presents itself.
  • Children Are Innocent: Averted, subverted, lampshaded, discussed. Pinkie, 17, and referred to most often as 'the boy' is a complete wrong 'un. Meanwhile Rose is certainly an ingenue, even childlike in her unworldlyness, but her role is far from that of blameless victim.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Catholic themes are prevalent in the book, contrasting Pinkie's twisted interpretation of it with Rose's more optimistic one and Ida's irreligious personal morality.
  • Confessional
  • Devil but No God: Pinkie strongly believes in Hell, but not in Heaven because he has literally no frame of reference for what it would be like.
  • Empathic Environment: The storm at the end when Pinkie and Rose attempt their Suicide Pact.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Pinkie is a sociopath, and can't understand the motivations of people like Ida (who he thinks is just terrorising him) and Rose (who he thinks is just weak and suggestible).
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: The novel is set in the 1930s.
  • Good Shepherd: After the general kicking that the novel gives to Catholic morality, the penultimate scene shows Rose being given real hope by an understanding confessor.
    • Not so much, given that that hope is based upon the idea that Pinkie really loved Rose, and the book leaves her about to find out beyond the shadow of a doubt that he did not... The last lines are after all, 'She walked rapidly in the thin June sunlight towards the worst horror of all.' (not exactly a plot spoiler, but I'd hate to spoil one of the great closing lines in literature for anyone!). The film (also written by Greene of course) has a slightly more 'hopeful' or at least ambiguous ending, one that the more recent adaptation also adopts.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Pinkie realises the next time he meets her that Rose has already forgotten about the bottle of vitriol - which explains why she doesn't understand what's going on when she later sees Pinkie writhing around, his face "steaming", with broken glass all around him.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Again, not a typical example of the trope, but the arrival of Ida Arnold and Cubitt gives Rose an excuse not to carry out the Suicide Pact she made with Pinkie.
  • Karmic Death: Pinkie has his face burnt off by the bottle of vitriol he kept in his pocket and runs screaming over a cliff. As well as this being the brutal fate he obliquely threatended Rose with earlier in the novel, it's karmic in a Dorian Gray-style-sense - he finally looks physically like the monster he is inside.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: A variation - Hale's death is made to look like it is from natural causes, so the inquest into his death is less suspicious. Later, so is Spicer's.
  • Mob War: There is one going on between Pinkie's mob and Colleoni's - although it's a very one-sided "war", and even Pinkie seems to eventually accept that defeat is inevitable.
  • Prayer Is a Last Resort: Pinkie consoles himself with the thought that even if you were to die falling off a horse, you can absolve yourself "...between the stirrup and the ground".
  • Primal Scene: The source of Pinkie's revulsion to sex.
  • Raised Catholic: Both Pinkie and Rose, though Rose adheres to her religion's rules more strictly. Even then, though, she is still willing to commit adultery and support Pinkie's actions.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Discussed by Rose and the priest at the end. If Pinkie really loved her, he will find his redemption in death. The reader can be fairly confident that he didn't, and he won't.
  • Religion Is Wrong: Pinkie interprets Catholicism to mean that you can get away with anything as long as you confess. Meanwhile, the irreligious Ida has a strong belief in worldly justice and personal morality.
  • Spousal Privilege: A major plot point.
  • Straight Edge Evil: Pinkie is disgusted by sex, and doesn't like the loss of control involved with drugs and alcohol. He justifies abstaining from them as both moral superiority and remembrance of his similarly Straight Edge mentor.
  • Suicide Pact: Toward the end, with Ida Arnold still on his case, Pinkie makes one with Rose, so they can be free of the pursuit of the law. It's not clear if he really intends to go through with his side of it.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: After they have sex for the first time, and after Pinkie's death, Rose believes that she might have this.
  • Villain Protagonist: Pinkie, of course.

The films provide examples of:

  • Dawson Casting: Sam Riley was 31 playing the 17 year old Pinkie in the 2010 adaption. The 1947 version has a less extreme example in Richard Attenborough, who was 23 while playing Pinkie.

Brave New WorldLiterature of the 1930sThe Cat Who Went to Heaven
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A Brighter SunLit FicThe Broom of the System
Black NarcissusFilms of the 1940sThe Damned 1947
The Book Of MansonThe SixtiesBrokeback Mountain
The Boy Who Cried WerewolfFilms of the 2010sBrooklyn's Finest

alternative title(s): Brighton Rock
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