‘Travels With My Aunt’ by Graham Greene (1969) – 244 pages
Reading a Graham Greene novel is for me like meeting a dear old friend again. I have a strong liking for Greene’s writing and have read most of his work.
There are a couple of reasons I had not read ‘Travels With My Aunt’ before. First the title wrongly suggested to me that this might not be fiction and might instead be some dreaded memoir. I’m no fan of memoirs generally. Also I erroneously thought that ‘Travels With My Aunt’ was one of the last works by Greene, and I have not had good luck with the last works of prolific authors. Only today did I find out that he wrote several of his best novels including ‘The Human Factor’ and ‘The Honorary Counsel’ after ‘Travels With My Aunt’. For whatever reason, I still find the title ‘Travels With My Aunt’ anomalous among the titles of his novels in its personal reference However the number of Graham Greene novels I haven’t read is dwindling down to a precious few, and it was time for ‘Travels’.
‘Travels With My Aunt’ is a fun good-natured comedy by Greene, perhaps not as edgy as some of his other books.
The main character in this novel is Englishman Henry Pulling. He has recently retired from his life’s work as an accountant. He has never married, and now that he is retired his main interest is tending his garden of dahlias. The novel begins on the day of his mother’s funeral. His aunt Augusta shows up at the funeral, and she turns Henry’s world upside down or right side up as the case may be.
Aunt Augusta’s life is entirely different from Henry’s sedate life. She is a free spirit living her life to the fullest.
“I despise no one, no one. Regret your own actions, if you like that kind of wallowing in self pity, but never, never despise.” - Aunt Augusta in ‘Travels With My Aunt’
Soon they are travelling to Paris, Istanbul, Argentina, and Paraguay on missions involving mysterious gentlemen, jewels, and government intrigue.
I found ‘Travels With My Aunt’ a merry romp of a novel, but perhaps not quite as dramatic as some of Greene’s other work. However a technique is used in this novel that I hadn’t seen before. A secret becomes apparent to the readers early in the novel. We wait for the main character Henry Pulling to figure it out, but he never does.
I would not recommend ‘Travels With My Aunt’ as a book to start with in reading Graham Greene. Better books to start with would be ‘The Heart of the Matter’, ‘Our Man in Havana’, ‘A Burnt-Out Case’, or, above all, ‘Brighton Rock’. There are any number of other fine Greene novels to start with, but ‘Travels With My Aunt’ isn’t one of them.
However I do recommend that you start reading Graham Greene if you haven’t already. I should mention that I am a fallen-out Protestant and still hold this most Catholic of novelists, Graham Greene, in highest esteem.