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Literature / Brighton Rock

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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:

  • Adaptational Job Change: In the novel, Ida has no stated profession and is implied to be a sex worker. In the 1948 film, she is an actress and singer.
  • 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 arranges his illegal marriage 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 immoral character in the book.
  • Celibate Hero: Pinkie Brown is a celibate villain, being thoroughly squicked by sexuality and femininity as a result of his childhood. He mentions having considered becoming a priest instead of a crook, and this is entirely plausible given his characterization. This doesn't stop him from consummating his marriage with Rose, and there's an implication that this almost redeems him.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The bottle of vitriol. Pinkie first threatens Rose with it, then uses it as a semi-Improvised Weapon in an altercation with police at the climax, leading to his being splashed with it himself.
  • 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:
    • Pinkie considers the possibility of sacramentally confessing his crimes, though he does not do so within the time frame of the book.
    • Rose goes to confession in the next-to-last scene, although the priest refuses to absolve her until later because she is openly unrepentant of some of the things she has done.
  • 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.
  • Disney Villain Death: In the 2010 film, Pinkie suffers death by gravity from the Seven Sisters cliffs. He stumbles over the edge after acid is splashed onto his face and eyes, causing horrific burns. All this is true to the book - although the entirely un-Disney-death-detail of a shot of his broken body and mutilated face lying in the wash at the bottom of the cliff is a new addition.
  • 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, although most of the focus is on the seedy underworld side of it.
  • 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 threatened 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.
  • Lit Fic: Despite the presence of teenage gangsters, a Mob War, and an Amateur Sleuth, the novel is not regarded as a genre story.
  • Love Martyr: Rose falls so completely for Pinkie that she is willing to (as she believes) sacrifice her immortal soul for him; at the end she is just barely prevented from killing herself so she can be with him forever in Hell! She does all this in the deeply mistaken belief that, on some level, he loves her.
  • 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. However, the appearance of an accident may not have been wholly intentional.
    • Played straight later, when Pinkie pushes Spicer off the stairs and fixes it to look like it was caused by a broken railing.
  • 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.
  • Paralyzing Fear of Sexuality: Pinkie is repulsed by sex as a result of repeatedly witnessing the Primal Scene (it doesn't help that he lives in a milieu packed to the gills with sexuality of the grubbiest, seediest kind). He's capable of feeling sexual arousal, and even of consummating his marriage, but the only passion he's actually comfortable with is a kind of desexualized sadism.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sadist: Pinkie is revolted by sex, but his feelings of petty anger are described as "sensual." He has indulged this sensuality as a school bully and as an unusually hands-on gang leader. In one scene, he idly pinches a girl's hand, she tells him he can keep at it if he likes that sort of thing, and he immediately lets go — her consent is a turn-off. He reminisces about
    ...all the good times he'd had in the old days with nails and splinters: the tricks he'd learnt later with a razor blade: what would be the fun if people didn't squeal?
  • Scooter-Riding Mod: Several characters in the 2010 film, which is set in 1964 and uses the Brighton Beach Riots as a backdrop.
  • Setting Update: The 2010 film moved the setting from 1935 to 1964.
  • Spousal Privilege: A major plot point: Pinkie convinces Rose to marry him so she can't report her circumstantial knowledge of his involvement in a murder.
  • 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. Sharply contrasted with the drunken, Really Gets Around hedonist Ida Arnold.
  • 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 doesn't seem like 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 hopes that she might have this.
  • Villain Protagonist: Pinkie, of course.
  • You Are Worth Hell: Rose chooses to damn herself for Pinkie's sake, first by entering into an irregular marriage (which she regards as a mortal sin) and then, more definitively, through joining with him in a Suicide Pact. It seems to be because of a very dark case of In Love with Love—she's so starved for affection that she's willing to throw away everything for the first person who even pretends to love her.