44. Brighton Rock, Graham Greene (1938)

Graham Greene is one of those writers I blow hot and cold about. I want to love everything he ever wrote, but some of the novels (eg The End of the Affair, Our Man in Havana) bored me to tears. Brighton Rock, however, is superb on every level. For starters, it’s probably got the best title of any book, ever. The period and setting (seaside town, seedy underworld, 1930s) are right up my street. The characters – vicious little Pinkie, sweaty, scared Hale, gullible Rose and the implacable Ida (‘a big woman with a laugh’) – are vivid and pungent. But above all, what I really love about Brighton Rock is the way Greene lets the story unfold with a tense, terse economy of means, never waffling on with too much description or interpretation, but never leaving the reader in any doubt of who’s doing what to whom. He regarded Brighton Rock as an ‘entertainment’, which seems to me to be the highest state to which literature can aspire.

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