Tag Archives: Graham Greene

Buying Books or In praise of the Independent Bookshop

Reading books, the whole blog is about books. Organising books, I’ve blogged about that too. And about decluttering books. And about publishing our own book. But I haven’t yet blogged about buying books. So here goes.

Second Hand Bookshops

166 Mr WestonI love exploring these. I get tempted by the old orange penguin books (which must be why I have got two copies of Mr Weston’s Good Wine by TF Powys. Some people would argue that you can’t have too many copies of Mr Weston’s Good Wine. And indeed it is a very intriguing and original book.) I love picking up copies of books I should have read but have passed me by, or even books that I read from the library and now want my own copy.

I like the idea that other people have read them, although I recently came across a reference to baking books from Boots Circulating Library in the oven to remove ‘other people’s germs’. And sometimes I find bookmarks between the pages, or pencil notes in the margins indicating someone else’s interest.

Occasionally I buy second hand books on-line, but this is not as enjoyable as browsing through the shelves of the local Oxfam shop. The chief attraction of second hand books is the serendipity, finding that book. I found several novels by Elizabeth Bowen in this way, and my copy of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock was (to coin a quite dreadful phrase) pre-read. It also means I sometimes obtain a copy of a book I think I really should have, only to get it home and find I went through the same process about 3 months previously. There is the second copy already on the shelves!

I make contributions to these second hand bookstores as well. It’s part of helping books go round.


166 Perseph bppkshop intHow bookshops have changed. For a start there are fewer of them (fewer than 1000 independent shops in the UK). So it is a rare treat now to come across an independent book shop, reflecting the individuality of the owner. Perhaps a cat lives among the shelves, or a dog guards the till. There may be a jug of flowers on the table. A chair invites you to linger, perhaps by an open fire. A local author has signed five copies of his book and they are waiting to be bought, by the till. There are maps and local walks, railway histories, an intriguing selection of fiction and that category called gift books.

The second thing that’s changed is the pricing. Who pays full price for books these days? It seems that books are marketed like pork pies or crumpets, as if one book is the same as any other. The principal idea is BOGOFF (Buy one and get one for free). And you can buy them in supermarkets along with your pork pies and crumpets. Chain bookshops blast you with offers, or the apparent attraction of being newly published, or that they are recommended by the staff. This last I do find interesting, although rarely decisive.

And then, of course, there is Amazon. Loved that they made it possible to buy any book, and quickly. Hate that Amazon is taking over the world. I don’t believe that Amazon acts in the best interests of authors, publishers or readers.

When I buy on-line I go first to Hive, still discounted, still free postage and in some mysterious way, supporting local independent bookshops.

But my ideal book buying experience is without stress. The shop feels domestic, cosy but full of possibilities. The shelves are interesting, inviting, categories easy to find, and the staff knowledgeable and opinionated. It is an independent bookshop.

In 2014 Dulwich Books was awarded the title Independent Bookshop of the year in the Bookseller Awards, Children’s Bookseller of the Year was The Edinburgh Bookshop.

Persephone Book Shop, Lambs Conduit Street, London

Persephone Books window

Persephone Books window

Last week I visited a bookshop that I love. Persephone Books sell their own books, those lovely dovegrey volumes by (mainly) women, books that need publishing. Books such as these, reviewed on this blog:

They are objects of aesthetic pleasure, chosen with great good taste. And they offer 3 for £30, or £12 each. This week I bought

  • The Happy Tree by Rosalind Murray
  • A Writer’s Diary: being extracts from the diary of Virginia Woolf
  • No Surrender by Constance Maud

166 Perseph bkshelvesThe pleasure of buying new books is enhanced by the domestic feel of the interior, the wooden furniture, cushions and fabric for sale (echoing Persephone’s trademark end papers and bookmarks, chosen from fabric designs contemporaneous with the contents of the book).

On the day I am there, as on previous occasions, office activities (such as receiving orders, enquiries about the Persephone Biennial Catalogue, payment issues) go on in the back of the shop.

Visiting Persephone Books reminds me of the importance of independent publishers, of the pleasures of buying books in nice shops and that I am not alone in wanting to go on visiting bookshops. (You can order their books online through the website as well as signing up for the daily Persephone Post, a visual treat).

Visiting Persephone Books reminds me that I am part of a community of readers.

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Filed under Books, Older women in fiction, Publishing our book, Reading, Reviews, Virginia Woolf

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

162 BR orange p coverLobby Lud, the man from the News Chronicle was a perpetual disappointment in my youth. If you spotted Lobby Lud, you were supposed to strike him on the shoulder with a copy of the News Chronicle and say, ‘You are Lobby Lud and I claim my £5’. But he never appeared in my home town in South Wales and on the occasion he came to Newport we did not. The paper ceased publication in October 1960 when my chance disappeared for ever.

Why read this novel?

I picked up Brighton Rock from my TBR pile because I needed a thin book to read on the train. It was on the pile as a classic to re-read. I was immediately rewarded with the brilliant opening paragraph of the novel.

Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him. With his inky fingers and his bitten nails, his manner cynical and nervous, anybody could tell he didn’t belong – belong to the early summer sun, the cool Whitsun wind off the seam the holiday crowd. They came in by train from Victoria every five minutes, rocked down Queen’s Road standing on the tops of the little local trams, stepped off in bewildered multitudes into fresh and glittering air: the new silver paint sparkled on the piers, the cream houses ran away into the west like a pale Victorian water-colour; a race in miniature motors, a band playing, flower gardens in bloom below the front, an aeroplane advertising something or the health in pale vanishing clouds across the sky. (5)

This opening paragraph is acclaimed for setting up the novel’s violence, tension, and the place and time of its events. The first sentence is apparently contradicted by the picture of Brighton on a Whitsun holiday. But we know at once that Hale is doomed.

Brighton Beach on Whitsun, 31 May 2009. By David Hawgood of Geography Project via Wiki Commons.

Brighton Beach on Whitsun, 31 May 2009. By David Hawgood of Geography Project via Wiki Commons.

I am working on the revision of the first draft of my novel. So I read the most acclaimed novels with attention. Graham Greene was one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century and this is one of several of his novels classed as classics.

There is one major novelistic problem for me in Brighton Rock. For this story to work we have to believe in several unlikely aspects of the characters. We have to believe that, knowing his life was in danger Hale would not try to escape; that Pinkie, only 17 years old, would go as far as he does; that Ida really cares enough about a man she barely knew to pursue the truth and put her own life in danger; that Rose is as innocent, stupid and gullible as she acts. None of these are givens, but there would be no story without them.

The story

162 BR filmWe are in the late 1930s. You may be visualising the Boulting Brothers 1947 film, which starred Richard Attenborough as Pinkie and Hermione Badderly as Ida Arnold. (The more recent film has not made a big impression.) That rather pasty face, with its scar and huge eyes, a baby face with the eyes of a mean old man, this is the Pinkie of the novel and 1947 film.

Good and evil were themes in the air in the late ‘30s and through the 40s, the time of the Second World War. And they are themes for all times. Graham Greene was a Roman Catholic and embraced these themes. The orthodox Roman church is not the hero of this novel. Rather it is the wholesome goodness of Ida Arnold, (almost a tart with a heart of gold). Pinkie’s evil is set against Ida’s humanity.

Lobby Lud lives on in Killey Kibber, aka Fred Hale, a journalist with the Messenger, in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. He is in Brighton to leave his cards (finders could claim 10/-) and be ready to be challenged by a member of the public.

Pinkie, the Boy, is 17 and trying to assert himself as the leader of a violent gang in Brighton by stepping into the shoes of Kite, slashed in the waiting room at St Pancras station in London. Pinkie organises Hale’s murder, because the journalist exposed gangs in Brighton and is on Killey Kibber duty in Brighton that Whitsun holiday. Pinkie is conscious that if caught he will not hang because he is a minor. But the gang do not lay the false trail according to his directions and in putting this right he meets 16-year old waitress Rose. She is a potential witness and Pinkie has to marry her so that she will not be able to testify against him. But he becomes so revolted by the idea of being tied to her he plans her murder as well.

Brighton West Pier October 2009. By Lars Olsson via Wiki Commons

Brighton West Pier October 2009. By Lars Olsson via Wiki Commons

As the story progresses Pinkie finds that the more violent he becomes, the more he compromises himself with everyone, including of course his God. Meanwhile his hold on his gang diminishes in the face of his rival Mr Corleoni. Evil will get its just desserts.

Ida Arnold, who likes a good time, was friendly with Hale, and she suspects foul play and injustice when she finds he has died. She sets out to find the truth which brings her into conflict with Pinkie. She also tries to rescue Rose but the girl has never received any attention before and is determined to do what Pinkie wants.

Why do we care?

Of course we want Pinkie’s plans to fail. But we also have some sympathy for Pinkie and Rose, they are young and naïve and come from impoverished backgrounds. Pinkie has no concept of any one else’s experiences and feelings. Consequently, he is very dangerous. Although Pinkie is evil, he experiences fear and frustration as his plans unravel. For example when he is tricked and cut at the races.

The poverty of Rose’s parent’s house and of her upbringing are stark. This is the scene when Pinkie goes to get permission for their marriage from her father.

There was only one door and a staircase matted with old newspapers. On the bottom step between the mud marks stared up the tawny child face of Violet Crow violated and buried under the West Pier in 1936. He opened the door and there beside the black kitchen stove with cold dead charcoal on the floor sat the parents. They had a mood on : a small thin elderly man, his face marked deeply with the hieroglyphics of pain and patience and suspicion : the woman middle-aged, stupid, vindictive. The dishes hadn’t been washed and the stove hadn’t been lit.

‘They got a mood,’ Rose said aloud to him. ‘They wouldn’t let me do a thing. Not even light the fire. I like a clean house, honest I do. Ours wouldn’t be like this.’

‘Look here, Mr -.’ The Boy said.

‘Wilson,’ Rose said.

‘Wilson. I want to marry Rose. It seems as she’s so young I got to get your permission.’

They wouldn’t answer him. They treasured their mood as if it was a bright piece of china only they possessed : something they could show to neighbours as ‘mine’. (141-2)

The childish mood persists until Pinkie offers 15 guineas for Rose. It is accepted. Poverty, violence, inadequacy, ignorance, mean-spiritedness – all these in so few lines.

Following the civil ceremony they wander at a loss around Brighton until they return to Pinkie’s lodgings. Finally he graduates in the last human shame (sexual consummation of the marriage) and now he believes he could face anyone. Both young people have been raised as ‘Romans’ and because their marriage is not solemnised in church, they are aware they have committed a mortal sin. Now they are lost they go on to plan more mortal sins.

The references to the church are to not to everyone’s taste, but this novel is an excellent thriller and raises important questions relevant to all beliefs and all times.

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene (1938) Penguin pp247 (Page references are to the 1977 Penguin edition).

How do you react to this classic? Is it a book you would re-read?

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Filed under Books, Reviews, Writing