Monday, February 25, 2008

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

This novel is basically a thriller but Greene's voice is so good, and he does enough with meditations on character (not to mention good and evil) that it gets take seriously enough as literature. I enjoyed a couple of things about the novel--one was Ida, the woman who fairly randomly takes it into her head (and heart) to solve the murder that happens early in the novel. The other was the way in which Greene would describe characters, large and small. Someone has a "clerkly mouth" and Ida gets described like this: "she was like darkness to him, shelter, knowledge, common sense; his heart ached at the sight; but, in his little inky cynical framework of bone, pride bobbed up again, taunting him." Or even a horse gets this: "A mounted policeman came up the road, the lovely cared-for chestnut beast stepping deliberately on the hot macadam, like an expensive toy a millionaire buys for his children; you admired the finish, the leather as deeply glowing as an old mahogany table top, the bright silver badge; it never occurred to you that the toy was for use." I think one of the hazards of the typical writing rush--to meet a workshop deadline or to get published quick quick quick is that fewer writers (especially student writers) stop and describe anything anymore. But it's often, in part at least, those few lines of description, that lingering in the physical and the metaphoric, that elevates all the action to art.

The other thing I thought about with this novel is just how implausible many of the character actions are. That Ida would chase the killer, that Rose would marry him... But Greene writes with such assuredness (such "no-explanations, no-apologies" as James Wood describes Peter Carey's new novel in this week's New Yorker) that you kind of buy it. Or at least you forgive it.

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