Book Review: Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene

Posted February 16, 2022 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene

I received this book for free from my own shelves in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene
Genres: Biography, Fiction
Published by Open Road Media on April 10, 2018
Pages: 274
Format: eBook
Source: my own shelves

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A standalone biographical novel about a retired bank manager meeting his aunt for the first time. The story begins in England in, I’m guessing, the 1960s and continues through several continents.

My Take

I gotta confess that I thought this would be similar to Patrick Dennis’ Auntie Mame, so I was floundering through the first bit, wondering when the fun would start.

Nope, the “fun” turned out to be more of a floundering right along with Henry as he gets to know Aunt Augusta from first person protagonist point-of-view from Henry’s perspective, even though it’s Augusta who does almost all the talking.

Why am I saying it’s biographical? It’s a fiction of Henry’s life, Augusta’s life, and Greene re-visiting places he’s been.

It’s not, however, so much an action-packed tale unless you count all the travel. It’s more of a satirical talk travelogue via Aunt Augusta’s stories and Henry’s thoughts. It’s first class all the way, between the actual transportation and Augusta’s memories. She has no shame about anything she’s done, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand her approach to life on that practical level, although I do appreciate her philosophy on life.

Greene does do a lovely job of depicting Henry as staid and respectable, and it’s rather difficult to comprehend that change in his perspective at the end. I confess that I thought he would do the opposite of what he did choose while deciding to change up at home!

Henry’s trip up river in South America was my favorite part of the story. It almost makes me wish travel still required a few days, if only to give the traveler a chance to see the countryside.

As for Aunt Augusta, I was blown away by this woman and the truth of her relationship with Henry was slow for me to grasp. Well, okay, she was blowing me away from the start with her free spirited ways, and by the time that truth occurred, I could not believe the selfish stupidity, her amorality, her cheerful acceptance of criminal behaviors. I did have to admire her for her enjoyment of life, if only it hadn’t been such a sleazy one!

Henry’s parents? Oh. Boy. I do have to wonder what Henry might have been like if his cheating father had survived instead of having only his puritanical mother to raise him. Seems as if Augusta got all the life that her sister did not.

Wordsworth? He’s colorful. He’s like the other men in Augusta’s life — without shame, although I do feel for him. Ercole Viscontin is scum, essentially. He sees nothing wrong with cheating, swindling, backstabbing, or taking all of Augusta’s money. Wait until you read the description of the man!! I just gotta wonder!

I am confused about how Superman inspired sex. As for the cannabis, it distracted me so well that the cigarettes and whiskey were a total surprise.

Henry’s thought about how “we have been conditioned by what we have read” reminded me of my own realization of how reading influenced me in good ways and in bad. I wish I’d realized how the bad would affect me, so I could have protected myself against that influence.

I can understand Henry pulling away from his boring retirement, but I’m not sure that, that ending partnership is all that practical. Henry is inept at paying attention to what’s around him. I don’t see a long life for the boy.

While Travels with My Aunt is written well, I won’t be re-reading it. There are plenty more books in my sea.

The Story

Now that the dullish Henry Pulling has left his job with an agreeable pension and a firm handshake, he plans to spend more time weeding his dahlias. Then, for the first time in fifty years, he sees his aunt Augusta at his mother’s funeral. Charging into her seventies with florid abandon, not a day of her life wasted, and her future as bright as her brilliant red hair, Augusta insists that Henry abandon his garden, follow her, and hold on tight.
With that, she whisks her nephew out of Brighton and boards the Orient Express bound for Paris and Istanbul, then on to Paraguay, and down the rabbit hole of her past that swarms with swindlers, smugglers, war criminals, and rather unconventional lovers.

With each new stop, Henry discovers not only more about his aunt and her secrets but also about himself as well.

The Characters

Henry Pulling has been retired from his job as a bank manager in Southwood for the past two years. His greatest joy is tending his dahlias. His joyless mother, Angelica, has just died. His lazy father, Richard Pulling, was a building contractor who died forty-plus years ago in an unknown place. A man who enjoyed his books.

Aunt Augusta Bertman has never married and (almost) never been alone. Zachary Wordsworth is a Black man from Sierra Leone enticed from his job as a doorman at the Grenada Palace in London.

Ercole Viscontin is a war criminal without conscience, a swindler, a collaborator, a thief, and worse. Mario is Viscontin’s gigolo son.

Southwood, England
Sir Alfred Keene was an important depositor at the bank. Barbara Keene is his daughter who loves tatting and sees Henry as her only friend. She moves to Koffiefontein, South Africa, and meets Mr Hughes, a land surveyor. Major Charge is Henry’s next door neighbor and not very reliable. Rose was the first woman Henry’s father slept with. William Curlew had been Richard Pulling’s partner whose wife, Melany, was too smart for him. The stone-deaf Mrs Blennerhasset was married to the mayor of Southwood. The Abbey Restaurant is run by Miss Truman, a.k.a. Peter, and Nancy. Detective-Sergeant John Sparrow is with the Southwood PD. Detective-Inspector Woodrow is with Special Branch. Mrs Brewster is pursued by the vicar.

Charles Pottifer, an income tax consultant, had quite a way with taxes. He set up Meerkat Products Ltd.

Hatty now runs Hatty’s Teapot where she reads tea leaves. Mr Curran was the ringmaster and then the head of the doggies’ church. Hannibal was the elephant that trod on Curran’s toe.

Wolf was the Irish wolfhound loved by Frau General. Henry’s uncle Jo Pulling was a bookmaker who fell for a house in Italy.

Rita is a “schoolteacher”. Achille Dambreuse, the director of a metallurgical company was one of Augusta’s lovers as was Louise Dupont. Anne-Marie Callot was a victim of the Monster of the Chemins de Fer.

Boulogne, France
The doubly spoken Miss Dorothy “Dolly” Paterson, a.k.a. Poupée, still loves Richard Pulling. And I do not see where Augusta has any right to that jealousy!

The Orient Express
Tooley” is a fellow traveler (majoring in English Literature) whose father is in the CIA. She says. Julian is her jerk of an artist boyfriend.

General Abdul, whom Augusta had known as the Turkish ambassador in Tunis, made a fatal mistake in Istanbul. Weissmann was a German connecting with Harvey Crowder, a meat packer in Chicago. Colonel Hakim is with the police.

South America
James O’Toole from Philadelphia has some odd facts he likes to track. He has a daughter, Lucinda, studying in London.

Asunción, Paraguay
The Chief of Police has a beautiful daughter named Camilla. Maria is the daughter of the chief customs officer. Dr Rodriguez can be counted on to massage statistics.

More of Augusta’s friends include Mr Fernandez who had a cattle farm in Camaguey, Tiberio Titi, Stradano, Passerati, and Cossa.

The Cover and Title

The background of the cover is a patchwork of varicolored browns and pale, pale green with a large brown suitcase? trunk? overlapping? on a luggage stand. A tiny brown case appears to the left. The title is in the upper half in a dark brown. The author’s name is in a pale yellow, except for the “m” which is partially overshadowed in a mint green.

The title is Henry’s Travels with My Aunt, a journey through Augusta’s history and his own thoughts.

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