The late English writer Graham Greene was a true wordsmith who could turn a simple phrase into a magical sentence. In Travels with My Aunt he is in good form and at his most entertaining. It’s humorous in the dry-English-wit style. I’m a fan of Greene’s writing but had missed this book until recently.
The author said of this book, “It’s the only book I have written for the fun of it.” It’s the story of retired bank manager Henry Pulling who meets his aunt for the first time at his mother’s (her sister’s) funeral. She shocks him with family secrets and with the details of her colorful life and persuades him to travel with her. Thus, Pulling’s ordered, mundane, quiet life becomes enmeshed with travel, drugs, war criminals, the CIA, hippies and other experiences he’s never had.
Much of the subject matter is not humorous on the surface — his mother’s funeral, the stealing of her ashes which are mixed with pot when returned to Pulling, a police investigation, and all manner of mishaps — but Greene’s keen wit and wording keep the plot rolling along. It’s a style described by the French as grim grin.
Aunt Augusta is one of those irrepressible souls who trips merrily through life even though she’s in and out of scandal and calamity. She has had an illustrious past and at age 75 is still intent on having more — often to Henry Pulling’s dismay. She’s described as “wise in experience and years but gloriously foolish in all things the English traditionally face with severe prudence.”
Greene’s long life nearly spanned the 20th century. He is counted as one of England’s greatest novelists. He has many novels to his credit; among them The Third Man, The Quiet American, The End of the Affair, Our Man in Havana and The Human Factor. He was named a Companion of Honour and received the Order of Merit and many other awards. Several of his books were made into movies — notably The Third Man and The Quiet American.