Entering into the universe of Brighton Rock is to enter a Manichean world of Good and Evil, in which the negative is portrayed as the active, self-affirming, heroic element. When confronted by Ida about her own knowledge of “”right and wrong”, Rose reflects that, “the two words meant nothing to her. Their taste was extinguished by stronger foods -- Good and Evil” (199). The novel’s anti-hero, 17 year old gangster Pinkie, seeks to exterminate all tenderness, pleasure and tolerance in his single-mindedly quest for an “annihilating eternity from which he had come and to which he went” (21). One of the novel’s comic characters, the crooked solicitor, Mr Prewitt, quotes Mephistopholes to Faustus, when he was asked where Hell is located, “He said, ‘why this is Hell, nor are we out of it’” (210).
This dark philosophical novel contains many of the formulas and themes of the noir novel: gang rivalry, gambling syndicates, betrayal, violent murder. It includes acute social commentary concerned with poverty, leisure diversions and manipulations of working people by corporations, machine culture and its effect on popular culture.
That Greene manages the difficult feat of making a metaphysical love affair between these two teens both deeply impacted by their childhoods raised both in poverty and within the Catholic Church visceral and moving for the reader is wonderful.
Brighton Rock manages to balance the philosophy, the action, the social criticism and the love story in such a taut combination that it keeps the reader as tightly wound as the novel’s action. It may be Greene’s greatest novel, a dark pulp gem.