Book #62

Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene

Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager, meets his septuagenarian Aunt Augusta for the first time in over fifty years at what he supposes to be his mother's funeral. Soon after, she persuades Henry to abandon Southwood, his dahlias and the Major next door to travel her way, Brighton, Paris, Istanbul, Paraguay. Through Aunt Augusta, a veteran of Europe's hotel bedrooms, Henry joins a shiftless, twilight society: mixing with hippies, war criminals, CIA men; smoking pot, breaking all the currency regulations and eventually coming alive after a dull suburban life.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were all to have an Aunt Augusta? Someone to pull us out of life’s drudgeries and introduce us to living, whether that be travelling the world recklessly, outsmarting anyone we come into conversation with, or merely smuggling contraband across European borders.

Henry Pulling is lucky enough to have an Aunt Augusta. Reunited with this extroverted, unapologetic, chaotic woman at his mother’s funeral, she plunges this timid and deeply introverted man into a life of abandon, of spontaneity, and ultimately, of crime. And I must admit, I was jealous.

Her eccentric and highly detailed stories about her past are something to behold, purely for their ambiguity and their tendency to emit feelings of exaggeration. It’s impossible to tell which parts of her stories are true, and which are fiction, and to understand which parts may have gained some embellishments after a number of years.

There’s a lot of social and political commentary here, and I’m sure deep satire, which I confess flew over my head due to my ignorance of politics in this era. There were also moments where I felt utterly confused, with the plot turning into a rampage of nonsense. Despite this, Greene’s characterisation managed to pull me through the pages. It’s no Brighton Rock, that’s for sure.

Overall, an excellent escape from the mundane, a journey across continents, and a reminder to cherish your wild family members - they are so important to the trajectory of your life.