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He claimed with dreary pride, ‘I suppose I’m real Brighton’, as if his single heart contained all the cheap amusements, the Pullman cars, the unloving weekends in gaudy hotels, and the sadness after coition.

Graham Green’s gang-war novel, Brighton Rock, gives you a slightly different view of Brighton to the Royal Pavilion. A hundred years after George the paint is still cracking, the dirty weekends away still dirty, but Green’s anti-hero Pinkie can’t rely on a Royal edict to sort out his problems.

The novel begins as Pinkie kills a man by choking him with a stick of Brighton rock candy, and follows his increasingly desperate attempts to take out the witnesses. Steadfast in his Catholic faith but resigned to eternal damnation, Pinkie takes the reader on a tour of Brighton’s underbelly in the 1930’s.

Cos opolitan

While I enjoyed Brighton Rock, some aspects of the narrative are a little trying. All female characters fall into two types: either bony, timid and manipulative or buxom, bawdy and motherly. Both types are viewed by Pinkie with barely contained disgust. It reflects the main character’s fear of women well, but was a bit difficult for me to read at times.

The novel has some really nice poetic parts, like when he’s trying to trick his wife into killing herself in a fake suicide pact: “He put out his mouth and kissed her on the cheek; he was afraid of the mouth – thoughts travel too easily from lip to lip.”

Green divided his novels up into ‘serious’ works and ‘amusements’. Brighton Rock was one of his serious novels. To me it read more like a good tawdry thriller, but I can imagine that for others the story of tested faith in Godless times might be quite moving.


I was interested to read that Graham Green is related to Robert Louis Stevenson. Robert Louis Stevenson is everywhere.


I was told that going to the Royal Pavilion was the best seven pounds you can spend in Brighton. It cost me 8.50. Maybe it would have been more impressive at seven pounds. It’s the tackiest place I’ve ever been in my life.

More Royal Pavilion

In 1786 Prince Regent George IV came to Brighton to get up to some mischief (as would any young person with free time, a free spirit and a reliable line of credit). Buying a farm by the beach, he built the palace over the property’s existing buildings with wire, iron beams, plaster and rock. It seems more thought went into the faux Oriental design than reliable construction – almost immediately after it was built the abundant rain and sea air started to corrode the building.

Conserving the palace has been an uphill battle ever since, and it shows. Pieces of the exterior moldings are flaking off everywhere. Over the past 200 years the building has suffered from dry rot, rising damp, severe structural problems, arson attacks and even a piece of ornamental roofing coming loose in a hurricane and becoming embedded in the floor. The condition of the building is so bad it is said that palace is cursed, either due to the intertwining of snakes and dragons in the décor throughout (considered unlucky in Chinese tradition) or the debauched life the prince led here.


(Unfortunately it is not permitted to take pictures inside the palace – just imagine Disneyland  crossed with the interior of a Chinese restaurant run by someone who’s never been out of Essex.  Actually, that’s probably quite close to the design brief George came up with.)

George (king from 1820 onwards) became more reclusive as his weight ballooned and he developed dropsy and gout. I had thought that Dropsy was one of Beatrix Potter’s rabbits, but actually it’s a condition where one’s organs retain interstitial fluid and swell beyond normal size. Just as fluffy, not as cute. Next door at the museum and gallery there is a pair of the king’s trousers on display. They are magnificently large. Gout could hardly have a more stately home.

Even in his diseased old age he frequently spent time at the palace (although resigned to a more subdued and secluded existence) and took frequent baths in restorative Brighton waters pumped up from the beach. I’m not sure if Brighton’s waters still have many beneficial effects. Unless standing soap foam is any good for you:

Shells on a bottle.

There is something very fitting about the most famous building in Brighton being essentially a themed nightclub built by a bored and sleazy monarch. George kept the palace excessively warm to encourage guests to remove clothing, and installed excessively plush carpets to make guests unsteady on their feet. It’s no wonder Queen Victoria swiftly sold the palace to the Brighton and Hove city council soon after she became queen.

July 2018
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