With a career spanning sixty years, Graham Greene was one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century. A noted journalist, film and literary critic, and screenwriter, Greene was most famous for his twenty-seven fictional works, from the spy thrillers he dubbed “entertainments” to his serious psychological and philosophical novels. Greene, several times nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, is often hailed as the greatest novelist of the mid-twentieth century and is considered by many to be one of the greatest British novelists ever.
Within Greene’s laudable body of work, Brighton Rock has repeatedly been singled out as his best novel. One of his harshest critics, Michael Sheldon, considers the book “audacious” and “brilliant”; another critic, Bernard Bergonzi, considers it Greene’s “finest novel,” and critic Harold Bloom says it is Greene’s “most enduring work.”
In matters of style, Greene is often regarded as a master. In Brighton Rock, he employs a free-ranging narrative voice that incorporates the authoritative third-person-omniscient point of view. Most critics cite his keen attention to realism, but hold their applause for his finely honed poetic sense. Whether comparing Rose’s obstinacy in the face of Ida’s meddling to a meeting of battleships gearing up for war, or comparing the snaking crowds at the Brighton pier to “a twisted piece of wire,” Greene speaks the poetic language of metaphor.
Both in structure and theme, Brighton Rock’s focus is oppositional. Superficially, the novel deals with warring gangs at the Brighton racetracks. On a deeper thematic level, the book deals in the overarching antithetical themes of Christian good (salvation) versus evil (damnation) and the secular issues of right and wrong. Mirroring the oppositional theme of the novel, Greene’s omniscient narrator frequently chooses the suitably oppositional language of oxymoron, describing Pinkie’s face as a “young ancient poker face,” painting Ida Arnold as a woman of “merciless compassion,” and noting the...
(The entire section is 861 words.)