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Mercy in Brighton

February 8, AD2013

My friend judge not me,\"\"
Thou seest I judge not thee:
Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,
Mercy I asked, mercy I found.

This post will be a sort of review of a book. Not a scholarly review, or even an intelligent one. It’ll be more like a haphazard drive-by review. The kind of review you might make about a man’s character as he purposefully steps on your toe. First, there will be a summary of the plot of \”Brighton Rock,\” and then my thoughts. Bear with me. I didn’t use an outline.

In preparation for Lent two years ago, I read Graham Greene’s “Brighton Rock.” A thrilling, and dark novel, it takes place in a Coney Island like port city in England. It is a bright and active town, horse races and carnival attractions. Pubs and daily, incoming busses filled with tourists. Lively.

The antagonist in the book is Pinkie, a seventeen year old thug. The story starts with his murdering of a journalist, Charles Hale. This murder starts him on a wild adventure that ends with his suicide. Every decision subsequent to the murder is to hide his involvement, and each decision brings him a step closer to his fatal leap.

Attempting to avoid discovery, he befriends this waitress, Rose. She observed one of Pinkie’s friends masquerading as the murdered Hale. Hale had been going around as a newspaper gimmick, a character named Kolley Kiber. He’d leave cards that you could bring in to the newspaper for a monetary return. Pinkie’s friend was masquerading because they wanted Hale’s murder to look like a suicide. He made the mistake of ordering something, while in the character of Kolley Kiber. Not a big issue, except that in the next day’s paper, Hale’s picture was all over the place. Hale’s picture, not the masquerader\’s. Naturally, the waitress noticed.

Pinkie went to the restaurant in order to figure out if Rose knew anything. Turns out she did. Pinkie then begins a relationship with her. Throughout the book, the relationship develops to one of hatred of her by him, and adoration of him by her. They eventually get married, the night before he commits suicide.

The unique thing about Rose and Pinkie is that they are both Catholic. Their shared Catholic roots are brought up several times throughout the book. And as a result of their mutual Catholic upbringing, mercy rears its beautiful head in several of their conversations, and becomes one of the main themes underlying the whole narrative.

The most important aspect of their relationship is Rose\’s idolizing of Pinkie. She loves him as one might love God. She is willing to do anything, maybe even kill herself. On the other hand Pinkie hates her. He hates her for their common past, he hates her for being female, and he hates her for loving him. He lies to her, pretends to love her in his own way. His hatred manifests itself in his intentionally leading her to drink deeply of mortal sin.

In many ways he is all that is evil in her life. This is why I think Rose is the really who the book is about. The book is about her salvation, about mercy for her. Pinkie is that evil, very human evil, not merely a literary device, through which the good of Rose’s soul is worked.

There is a point early on where Pinkie asks her if she goes to Mass. “’Sometimes,’ Rose said. ‘It depends on work. Most weeks I wouldn’t get much sleep if I went to Mass.’” This establishes her as sort of lukewarm in the practice of her Catholic faith. She’s obviously not embraced it to the hilt. She does, however, fall madly in love with Pinkie.

Pinkie, taking her out for a stroll their wedding day, buys a little gramophone disk that she asks for. She wants him to record his voice in case there’s ever a time where he will be away from her. Whether on travel or dead, who cares? A little something so she can hear him, and know he loves her, even while they’re apart.

So he records this: “God damn you, you little bitch, why can’t you go back home for ever and let me be?” He hands it to her, and that’s that. She never actually listens to it in the book.

The next day, Pinkie devises this plan to have Rose kill herself. That way he doesn’t have to deal with her any more. He fakes a desire to kill himself, and he wants her to go with him into the underworld. So they drive out to the country, he gives her a gun, and says he’ll go walk around. She sits in the car debating. Putting the gun to her head, putting it in her lap. Finally, in comes the protagonist of the novel with the police, saving Rose, and moving Pinkie to the decision to jump over the cliff he had parked next to.

By the last chapter, Pinkie’s been as dead as the tree holding his life’s story, and Rose is speaking with a priest. She tells the priest, “I’m not asking for absolution. I don’t want absolution. I want to be like him—damned.” The reason being, she doesn’t want to be saved out of love of Pinkie. If he’s damned, she wants to be with him, forever.

The priests says, ‘If he loved you, surely,’ the old man said, ‘that shows there was some good …’ So she goes off to listen to his words, with a conviction that she’s conceived a child with him. She can’t wait to salvage some goodness from his life.

What’s she’s in store for, though, would prove to be “the worst horror of all.” (Meaning, the gramophone message he left.)

It was God’s mercy, however, that Pinkie recorded those vile words on the gramophone record. Rose almost killed herself out of love for a boy whom she thought loved her. Though the book ends with the suggestion that she went to hear the gramophone, and leaves no indication of what her reaction would be, the scene in the confessional sheds more than enough light on her next actions. In that scene she refused absolution; she rejected contrition, all on the basis of loving someone other than God, as deeply as one might love God. Her love, however, was based on that person loving her back. Her refusal of absolution was her still serving Pinkie, giving him that love she thought was yet requited. Her lack of contrition was her serving the memory him, serving it by clinging to her sins, sins committed out of what she believed was a mutual affection. Without that reciprocity, the reason for suicide evaporates. There is only one place she can go, home. Just like Pinkie commands in his message.

As the priest says, ‘You can’t conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone the . . . appalling . . . strangeness of the mercy of God.’

© Joseph Mazarra. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Happily married to a beautiful southern woman, has two sons, with a third one on the way. Christendom Graduate, and a Marine Officer. My wife and I hope that over time our family becomes a beacon of light within our community, one that reflects the Faith God has given us, and one that helps lead people safely into His harbour, the Catholic Church.

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  • Siegfried Paul

    I have to judge others because the disciple whom Jesus loves and who was lying close to the breast of Jesus at supper on the night of betrayal tells me that, if someone commits a sin that leads to death, I must not pray for him: .

  • Marcus Allen Steele

    Thanks Joseph. It’s tough to encapsulate a book so I really appreciate your review. Your characterization of Pinkie and Rose give me a terrific sense of Greene’s effort at layering these two main figures, of their divergent motivations, and the tragedy of lies. The book is now on my reading list.

  • John Darrouzet

    A well-written review of a book by one of my favorite authors. Please keep this up.

    What strikes me is the way Greene gets at the truth by way of describing fallacy.

    My favorite Greene novel is “The Human Factor.” I encourage you to write a post on it.