Tuesday, 27 October 1998

Graham Greene: Travels With My Aunt (1969)

Edition: Hamlyn
Review number: 147

Henry Pulling meets his Aunt Augusta at his mother's funeral, after many years without seeing her. Travels With My Aunt is the account of how she inexorably drags him into her strange, hedonistic lifestyle, a lifestyle more generally associated with teenagers than with a woman in her eighties and her retired bank manager nephew. In her company, he travels bemusedly, first to Istanbul on the Orient Express, becoming involved with drugs and currency smugglers. In Aunt Augusta, Greene has created one of the great eccentric characters of modern fiction, with a wry humourous touch. Travels With My Aunt reads like a gentler version of one of Joe Orton's plays.

The book - and, indeed, musical and film - it reminds me most strongly of is Patrick Dennis' Auntie Mame and its sequel, Round the World With Auntie Mame. While both the main characters in these books are considerably younger than those in Travels With My Aunt (the narrator of Auntie Mame is, at the beginning, a schoolboy), the similarities are quite obvious. Since Auntie Mame was published in 1955 and Travels With My Aunt in 1969, it is likely that Greene at one point thought it would be fun to write a similar book but with the characters a lot older. There is certainly more pathos in a man of fifty discovering the world for the first time than there is in the similar experiences of a teenager.

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