Sunday, July 12, 2009

Worth murdering a world

It occurred to him suddenly that she might even get up and leave him, go back to Snow's with her secret for the first comer who questioned her kindly: he had to conciliate her, they were walking out, he'd got to do the things expected of him. He put out his hand with repulsion; it lay like a cold paddock on her knee. "You took me wrong," he said, "you're a sweet girl. I've been worried, that's all. Business worries. You and me" — he swallowed painfully — "we suit each other down to the ground." He saw the colour go, the face turn to him with a blind willingness to be deceived, saw the lips waiting. He drew her hand up quickly and put his mouth against her fingers: anything was better than the lips: the fingers were rough on his skin and tasted a little of soap. She said, "Pinkie, I'm sorry. You're sweet to me."

He laughed nervously, "You and me," and heard the hoot of a bus with the joy of a besieged man listening to the bugle of the relieving force. "There," he said, "the bus. Let's be going. I'm not much of a one for the country. A city bird. You too." She got up and he saw the skin of her thigh for a moment above the artificial silk, and a prick of sexual desire disturbed him like a sickness. That was what happened to a man in the end: the stuffy room, the wakeful children, the Saturday night movements from the other bed. Was there no escape — anywhere — for anyone? It was worth murdering a world.

"It's beautiful here all the same," she said, staring up the chalky ruts between the To Let boards, and the Boy laughed again at the fine words people gave to a dirty act: love, beauty . . . All his pride coiled like a watch spring round the thought that he wasn't deceived, that he wasn't going to give himself up to marriage and the birth of children, he was going to be where Colleoni now was and higher . . . He knew everything, he had watched every detail of the act of sex, you couldn't deceive him with lovely words, there was nothing to be excited about, no gain to recompense you for what you lost; but when Rose turned to him again, with the expectation of a kiss, he was aware all the same of a horrifying ignorance. His mouth missed hers and recoiled. He'd never yet kissed a girl.


— from Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene.

OK. Wow. I didn't think much of this book when I first cracked it open, but it got intense fast.

I feel so sorry for Pinkie! I mean, he's only 17. And his Catholicism is of no help to him at all. He believes firmly in Hell, there's evidence of damnation all around, but he can't commit to the idea of there being a God, because, well, I'm not really sure why, but things seem pretty hopeless.

I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say there's a murder committed in the early chapters of the novel, and the rest of book follows Pinkie (yes, Pinkie) as he tries to cover his tracks. Guilt, and possibly the first inklings of tenderness or love, is chipping away at his hardened gangster-wannabe exterior. But it's fear and paranoia that lead him on a reckless and devastating path.

[If you don't like spoilers, don't read JM Coetzee's introduction — thanks goodness I didn't till just a few moments ago.]

Oh, and poor Rose! She really believes he loves her! Reading what Pinkie recorded for her on the gramophone was like a punch in the gut. I can't bear to imagine how her life will crumble when one day she listens to it. Poor Rose... Talk about rose-coloured glasses!

Aside from Pinkie and Rose, there's a lot of pink in this book. Little shots of pink throughout the noir, a paler shade of the blood on Pinkie's hands that occasionally comes to surface. (His full name's Pinkie Brown.)

There are no words or dialogue that don't need to be here. It's a tight little novel about grim circumstances, complex characters grappling with the differences between right-and-wrong and good-and-evil, shown to vary according to age, experience, religion. Great book!
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