Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene
Henry’s travels with his Aunt Augusta begin at his mother’s funeral and end at his Aunt’s house warming party. Between the two – the one in a municipal Crematorium in Surrey and the other in Asunción in Paraguay. In between Henry and his aunt visit Brighton, Istanbul, Paris and South America meeting a string of eccentric characters and only just escaping the law due to his amoral aunt’s liking or risky business deals that involve smuggling.
Written in the first person by Henry Pulling a retired bank manager whose main interest in tending his dahlias Greene sets up some brilliantly funny scenes as Henry describes in his understated way some extraordinary events and even more extraordinary people.
In conversation with the Chief of Police at a party in Asuncion Henry comments on the old fashioned dances. The Chief of Police replies: “The Polka and the Gallop. They are out national dances.”
“The names sound very Victorian,” I said. I had meant it as a compliment but he moved away abruptly.
One reoccurring Greene theme is that of the Catholic faith.
“Are you a Roman Catholic?” I asked my aunt with interest. She replied promptly and seriously, “Yes, my dear, only I just don’ believe in all the things they believe in.”
And Greene’s descriptions are beautiful if unlikely in the words of Henry. ‘As Chapter 13 opens: When a train pulls into a great city I am reminded of the closing moments of an overture.’ And perhaps more convincingly for Henry in chapter 16: ‘I was back home, in the late afternoon, as the long shadows were falling: a boy whistled a Beatle tune and motor cycle revved far away un Norman Lane.’
Rather like the travels themselves the story meanders from one incident to another eventually bringing together the quartet of characters who dominate the travels: Wordsworth (who is a sort of unconvincing doomed caricature), the dodgy Mr Visconti and her lover Aunt Augusta who reconciles her colourful past with Henry who eventually finds himself in the intoxicatingly exotic and illegal world of his aunt in South America.
* Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene was first published by Bodley Head in 1969.
* A film version was made in 1972 with Maggie Smith as Aunt Augusta and Alec McCowen as Henry (see below)