Greene on the Rock

While over here in the UK I finished Graham Greene's Brighton Rock--set in the seaside resort town with a seedy side (think Atlantic City with accents), in the early 20th-century. It's a pretty streamlined treatment, and becomes quite brisk in the latter part of the story (one gets the feeling that Greene had a screen treatment in mind as he wrote the book--though it's clear that a film version could not have done justice to the closing drama and interiority). But what stands out is stunning character invention and development, particularly in the diabolical Pinkie, but also the self-confident Ida who, in a way, bears remarkable resemblance to the "earnestness" Alden Pyle in The Quiet American.

I won't be able to reproduce the layers of religious themes at work in the book, but perhaps a quote from the closing few pages captures how Greene sees sainthood tottering on the brink of demon possession (whereas Ida's world of moralistic certainty is actually never near to God). In the words of an anonymous priest:

He said gently, 'Corruptio optimi est pessima.'

'Yes, father?'

'I mean--a Catholic is more capable of evil than anyone. I think perhaps--because we believe in Him--we are more in touch with the devil than other people.'

Shivering thought.