‘Travels With My Aunt’ by Graham Greene

‘Travels With My Aunt’ by Graham Greene  (1969) – 244 pages

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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.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. I’d second everything you say, Tony, except to add that Greene handles the eccentricity in this novel perfectly, without overdoing it as so many novelists do.

    Reply

    • Hi Lisa,
      Yes, he does handle the eccentricity of Aunt Augusta and of Henry Pulling well. I suppose the only complaint I could possibly have with this book is that their trip to Argentina/Paraguay is treated as a lark when the leader of Paraguay at this time was a particularly oppressive Nazi.

      Reply

  2. Posted by acommonreaderuk on March 16, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Great minds think alike Tony – how strange that we should both have the same idea (revisiting GG) at the same time. I have made up my mind to work through them all again – my next is The Power and the Glory. After all the dross of recent months (a few have been OK of course) it’s a relief to discover quality writing again.

    Reply

    • Hi Tom,
      Not sure I’ll be revisiting more of Greene’s work at this time, but – you’re right- Graham Greene is a novelist you can always rely on His work; it is always good, and frequently great.
      Speaking of ‘The Power and the Glory’, I read that book when I was much younger, didn’t like it at that time, and didn’t read Greene for a long time. Then I came back to Greene in the late Nineties, thought he was wonderful, and for the next five years after that I must have read about 15 of his novels. The second time I read ‘The Power and the Glory’ I thought it was really good.

      Reply

  3. Interesting. I saw this as a romp until about three quarters or so of the way through, when it became increasingly dark. By the end I found it more despairing and horribly sad. Henry trades one prison for another, and along the way gives up what may well be his one chance at love.

    There’s a wonderful line at one point about someone Henry meets on a train, who leaves and returns to the country of the young as he puts it. The book has a wonderful feel as I recall of life slipping through middle aged fingers, or at least the sense that it is.

    Reply

    • Hi Max,
      Yes, he did leave that woman from South Africa hanging in the end, deciding instead to travel with his ‘Aunt’. I missed the transition from a romp to anything darker. Who knows, Henry might have been better off just staying home by himself tending to his dahlias.

      Reply

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