Graham Greene – Amiable Writer for All Seasons

“Travels with My Aunt” by Graham Greene (1969) –  254 pages

“When we are not sure, we are alive.”

                                         Graham Greene  

 During the past six years, I’ve developed a full-scale addiction to the writing of Graham Greene.  The book that hooked me completely on Greene was one of his early works, “Brighton Rock”.  This story of a young hoodlum and the woman who is chasing him tooling around Brighton, England in their big old motor cars completely captivated me.  From then on, I read novel after novel by Graham Greene.  “The End of the Affair”, “The Heart of the Matter”, “Our Man in Havana”, “A Burnt-Out Case”, “The Quiet American”, “The Comedians”, and several more.  Each of these books was special and only fed my desire to read more Graham Greene.

The secret to Graham Greene’s style is that he has no style.  Or I should say his style is that of a steady amiable fellow telling an interesting story as clearly as possible.  I suppose that is every writer’s aim, but Greene makes it look so easy it seems almost effortless.   In a Greene novel, your attention is not on the author’s technique but on the story itself where it belongs.

“Travels with my Aunt” was written during a joyful period of Greene’s life.  He had just moved to France to stay with his mistress and companion, Yvonne Cloetta.  He dedicated “Travels with my Aunt” to her with the inscription, “For H.H.K / who helped me more than I can tell”.  “H.H.K. stood for “healthy, happy kitten”. 

The story of “Travels with my Aunt” is that of a middle aged stick-in-the-mud ex-bank executive, retired early to care for his dahlia garden, who meets his exotic carefree Aunt Augusta who turns his life upside down and gets him involved in all sorts of adventures with many different shady figures.  During the novel they travel the Orient Express to Turkey and sail by ship to Paraguay.

This is Greene at his most amiable.  It was a good read, but for me the story wasn’t quite as strong as many of his other novels.  For anyone just starting to discover Graham Greene, I would recommend reading one of the novels I list in the first paragraph rather than “Travels with my Aunt”.  I always think it right to start with the best when discovering a new author. 

“Travels with my Aunt” does have its many pleasures.  There is a secret in the novel which I figured out at about page 60 and I suppose the average reader would have figured out at page 40, but our slow-witted stick-in-the-mud ex-bank executive protagonist does not latch on to until nearly the end of the novel.

Graham Greene novels are usually called thrillers, but they are more than that.  Some of his books are dark like “Brighton Rock”, some are satirical like “Our Man in Havana”. Nearly all his novels are suspenseful, but all are told by this good-natured reliable narrator, Graham Greene.

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