Travels with my Aunt by Graham Greene

★☆☆☆☆ (1/5)

‘Switzerland is only bearable covered with snow,’ Aunt Augusta said, ‘like some people are only bearable under a sheet’

Not as enjoyable as “Loser Takes All”, I read this novella by Greene for respite from “The Brothers Karamazov”. It is surely entertaining but lack of a concrete plot became tedious at times. The big reveal at the end can be anticipated from the first few pages by any intuitive reader.

Henry Pulling is an aging bachelor, an early retiree living a cautious and dull life up until he meets his Aunt at his mother’s funeral. She persuades him to accompany her on her travels in England and abroad. Her adventurous and unapologetic spirit provides Henry with just enough impetus to observe his own monotonous life from outside. Away from his beloved dahlias, his cosy apartment and a comfortable lifestyle in which he is deeply embedded in, he quickly becomes Aunt Augusta’s confidante. She reveals to him her eccentric past which revolved mostly around love affairs and heartbreaks.

Was the secret of lasting youth known only to the criminal mind?

Set against the backdrop of 1960’s, the two travel to Brighton, Paris, Istanbul and South America, trailing an old lover. Aunt Augusta is a clever old girl and Henry is enamoured by her relentless bravado. From his pleasant albeit dreary suburban existence, Henry is pulled into a life of crime and adventure where smuggling and espionage seem to be a new normality he was previously wholly unfamiliar with.

I discovered for the first time in myself a streak of anarchy

What we have in this novella is an amalgamation of a classic mystery with farce but it is done so inadequately. The characters seem to be mere caricatures of their real selves and many of the plot points were weak enough to be utterly boring. The writing is elegant and spontaneous with just enough humour to keep the reader in tune with the predictable ending.

“Travels with my Aunt” is engaging but one could easily give it a snub and not be missing anything by Greene, who undoubtedly is a brilliant story teller.

Quotable Quotes

  • I must be forgiven these memories of the past: at a funeral they are apt to come unbidden, there is so much waiting about
  • People are generally seen at their best on these occasions, serious and sober, and optimistic on the subject of personal immortality.
  • Age, Henry, may a little modify our emotions—it does not destroy them
  • Human communication, it sometimes seems to me, involves an exaggerated amount of time. How briefly and to the point people always seem to speak on the stage or on the screen, while in real life we stumble from phrase to phrase with endless repetition.
  • I would have been saved from much, though I suppose I would have missed much too
  • Too many books by too many authors can be confusing
  • Perhaps it is freedom, of speech and conduct, which is really envied by the unsuccessful, not money or even power.
  • Perhaps a hint of weakness is required to awaken our affections
  • People who like quotations love meaningless generalizations
  • A mother should not be in need of protection herself.
  • ‘I despise no one,’ she said, ‘no one. Regret your own actions, if you like that kind of wallowing in self-pity, but never, never despise. Never presume yours is a better morality.’
  • As one grows old I think one becomes more attached to family things—to houses and graves
  • You are wrong to be so confident in the existence of another time
  • Loyalty to a person inevitably entails loyalty to all the imperfections of a human being
  • One’s life is more formed, I sometimes think, by books than by human beings: it is out of books one learns about love and pain at second hand. Even if we have the happy chance to fall in love, it is because we have been conditioned by what we have read, and if I had never known love at all, perhaps it was because my father’s library had not contained the right books
  • Life can be bearable when it’s only one who suffers
  • One collaborates always with the victorious side. One supports the losing.

Beautifully Crafted Sentences

  • She formed her sentences carefully like a slow writer who foresees ahead of him the next sentence and guides his pen towards it
  • knew Mr Visconti the hour was really getting late—not too late, of course, but a child belongs to the dawn hours, and with Mr Visconti one was already past the blaze of noon
  • She replied in a slang expression quite out of character, ‘Oh, there’s life in the old girl yet,’ with a smile so speculative, so carefree and youthful, that I was no longer surprised by Wordsworth’s jealousy
  • He’ll feel trapped. He often feels trapped
  • But I was excluded, as I had always been excluded
  • Politics in Turkey are taken more seriously than they are at home. It was only quite recently that they executed a Prime Minister. We dream of it, but they act.
  • How typical it was of her gentleness, and perhaps even of her sense of defeat, that she had not troubled to correct her errors
  • Modern literature has never appealed to me; to my mind it was in the Victorian age that English poetry and fiction reached the highest level
  • Something in the woman’s manner had riled her—perhaps it was her air of timid belligerence, for my aunt had little patience with weakness even when it was concealed.
  • Before I left home I had rung my aunt’s number in the vain hope that she might have returned just in time for Christmas, but the bell tolled and tolled in the empty flat, and I could imagine the noise setting all the Venetian glasses atinkle
  • ‘It is not impossible.’ He was never satisfied unless he made four words serve for one
  • It was as though my aunt’s crooked world were destined to a kind of immortality—only my poor father lay certainly dead in the smoke and rain of Boulogne
  • he looked as English as I did; there were small lines bitten by care around the eyes and mouth, and like a man who has lost his way he had a habit of looking this way and that with anxiety
  • People talk about the age of reason. There’s no such thing. When you have a child you are condemned to be a father for life. They go away from you. You can’t go away from them
  • The heat broke on the cheek like little bubbles of water
  • He let his great bulk down on my bed and he began to weep. It was like a spring forcing its hard way to the surface, spilling out of the crevices of a rock.
  • ‘In a year,’ my aunt said, ‘what would you two have to talk about?’
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