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Travels With My Aunt (Vintage Classics)
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on 15 May 2004
Wow. It's sat on the bookshelf for an age, along with half a dozen other Greene novels, without ever rising to the top of the pile. And then, I pick up the wonderful Our Man in Havana for a long journey and I'm hooked. I wasn't sure what to expect of Travels With My Aunt - it's a familiar title, but I'm not aware of a film or TV adaptation (either of which would be a real treat) and expected if anything a semi-autobiographical tale. Not sure of the background, but I know a top book when I read one, and I'd recommend this to anyone. Everyone. It's a great read. Travel writing in the sixties still had a mysterious romance about it (as anyone who's read Ian Fleming's Bond books will testify) but this is more than travel writing, a great plot, wonderful characters and superb storytelling all wrapped up in 264 enchanting pages. Highly recommended.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
Henry Pulling is a recently retired bank manager. He was offered an arrangement after many years of devoted service when his bank was taken over by another. He is looking forward to spending more time with the dahlias that are his pride and joy, and also rubbing shoulders with his former customers in Southwood, an unremarkable London suburb that seems to be populated entirely by retired officers from the armed forces. He mentions Omo quite a lot and is vaguely embarrassed by the fact that he shares initials with a well known brand of sauce. And then he meets his long lost aunt, Augusta Bertram.

Henry's mother has just died. His father died forty years before. He never really knew the father and his relationship with his mother was perennially tense. After the funeral, Agatha takes him on one side and calmly informs him that his father was something of a rogue and that his "mother" was really his step-mother, his true biological mother being one of his father's bits on the side. Henry Pulling finds himself attracted to his aunt, not because she is something of an eccentric, unpredictable old bird, but also because she retains, somewhere, the secret of his own origins. When she suggests they travel together, he eagerly accompanies, despite the fact that he has never been one for straying far from the nest.

Graham Greene has Henry and Aunt Augusta travel as far afield as Brighton, Istanbul and South America. Together, via stories from Aunt Agatha's past, they relive the first half of the twentieth century, from late Victorian roots to 1960s drug culture, from fascism to dictators, from war to peace. Throughout, Henry Pulling comes across as a genial, predictable gent in his late fifties, whilst Aunt Agatha seems to be a confirmed member of Hell's Grannies. Europe - the world even - seems to be littered with her conquests, with hardly a country passing by without some faded memory of hers coming back to life.

As it unfolds, Travels With My Aunt reveals itself as a true masterpiece of twentieth century fiction. The characters really do live through the century's history, but the events are never pressed onto the surface of their lives. On the contrary, they are entwined within the fabric of Aunt Augusta's being, a character whose complexity unfolds as the story progresses.

Throughout Henry Pulling is a truly comic character. He seems out of his depth, naïve, a product of an over-protected suburban existence, over-burdened with the assumptions of his upbringing. But he comes into his own and eventually it is no surprise when he describes his new life, which is almost as far removed from a suburban bank manager's office as it is possible to get. And, of course, the story's denouement, when it arrives, is also no surprise. And is not less because of that.

There are many laughs along the way, not least as a result of Henry's being constantly taken aback by his aunt's bluntness and lust for life. Particularly memorable, however, were scenes where Henry put his personal foot in it. On Paraguay's national day, he carries a red scarf on his aunt's advice so he can show allegiance to the ruling party and the dictator. He just happens to be outside the military and political headquarters when he sneezes and uses the scarf as a hankie. A nearby soldier records the snotting into the national emblem as deeply insulting and irreverent, duly beats him up and slaps him in jail. Situation comedy at its best.

Travels With My Aunt is quite simply a must read and must re-read book. Graham Greene's immense skill provides a simplicity of style and construction to communicate a complex plot alongside powerful characterisation, and all this accomplished with true but elegant economy. It is a beautifully crafted book, expertly written, full of surprises and humour, all set against a deadly serious plot: surely a masterpiece.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 13 March 2011
After searching in the local library for a decent read beyond the pap and pretentious present day so called celeb autobiographies, I came across this gem. I have read Graham Greene on and off for many years, (the last one was Gun For Sale) but I had never heard of this one. It tells the story of Henry Pulling, recently retired as a bank manager who is looking forward to spending the remainder of his days in suburbia tending to his Dahlias that have exotic names right out of sync with his dull, grey and predictable life. Enter his aunt Augustus who has arrived at the funeral for Henry's mother. His father died 40 years before. She has not seen Henry for 25 years and within a short while is informing Henry that it was his stepmother he had just buried. Wanting more information, he listens spellbound to her improbable stories of far flung places, the lovers she has had and the one man she truly loves, wanted by Interpol, not to mention her present paramour, Wordsworth, younger than her, from Freetown, Sierra Leone and completely besotted by the 75 year old lady who lives life to the full. Needless to say Henry is knocked off balance by the tales told and the life lived and wonders about his own humdrum, safe and uneventful life.
He finds out the inevitable and makes the right choice at the end. It was a joy reaching the conclusion with him and a book I will definitely be reading again - soon.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This novel seems very dated when viewed through the jaded lens of the twenty first century but I suspect it felt that way even on it's day of publication. The central character seems out of place in the swinging sixties and belongs back in thirties and the realm of the stiff upper lip. Not so his outrageous ageing Aunt, who drags Henry Pulling almost by the neck, into the open air and confronts him with present day (the 60's) realities.

The first half of this novel details Henry first meeting his Aunt and being persuaded on a voyage from London to Istanbul. The style is largely anecdotal and hugely entertaining. Greene's prose is second to none and his velvety words slip past effortlessly. The second half of the book is darker and less about the journey than the destination. The light tone and comedy of the first section are lost; characters become more sinister and the novel is driven by plot rather than character. Unusually for Greene the plotting is rather lazy and unsatisfactory, leaving the reader disappointed. After an excellent beginning I had expected rather more.

Travels with my Aunt is still a very good novel, written by a master craftsmen and definitely worth reading but I have been left somewhat deflated by a second half that pales when compared with the brilliance of the first.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Humour is always present in Greene's novels, it's just that usually the comedy is buried beneath a bleak pile of despair, guilt and angst. With Greene there is laughter but it's very much laughter in the dark: the gallows humour of the man who trips on his way to the scaffold. In Travels with My Aunt however the humour steps out of the shadows and takes centre stage with the result that this is, perhaps, the most likeable and purely enjoyable all the novels Greene wrote.

Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager who lives - if that's the word - an eye-wateringly dull life, meets his Aunt Augusta for the first time in fifty years at his mother's funeral. Henry is initially wary of his charismatic aunt but gradually he falls into step beside her and the pair travel to Brighton, Paris, Istanbul and, finally, South America. From his dry little life of dahlias and retired army majors Henry finds himself propelled into a world of CIA agents, hippies, dubious businessmen, elderly Casanovas, suspect priests and quaint old dears who read uncannily accurate forecasts about future events from tealeaves. After a dull suburban existence Henry finds himself finally engaging with the very stuff of life rather than merely watching from the sidelines as it passes him by. Henry is a brilliant comic character - wide-eyed and naive, continually surprised by his aunt's questionable friends and rather racy behaviour, but it is his aunt who steals the show: fabulously entertaining in a no-nonsense hands-on fashion, ready to engage with whatever life cares to push in her path Aunt Augusta is a fesity force of nature. As a lesson on the need to make the most of one's opportunities the book can hardly be bettered. The world is out there - go and find it....

In truth there is little in the way of plot, but that doesn't matter. Travels is a character-lead novel and the interest derives from the way Henry and his aunt extricate themselves from ever more curious and unlikely situations. Greene was excellent at making his characters interesting. Little telling details are sprinkled here and there with the result that, with seemingly effortless ease, his characters live and breath. Henry, for example, has a stilted correspondence with a lady whom he used to infrequently see for tea. Gradually it becomes apparent that marriage was - and perhaps still is - a possibility. But does he want to take that step? Does he dare, or would he merely be doing so out of pity or desperation? Having travelled with his aunt could he ever go back to a conventional existence? It's all beautifully portrayed.

Travels with My Aunt is beautifully written and great fun. If you've ever found youself slumped in an armchair and not knowing what to do with your spare time get yourself a copy. It will give you some ideas and it may just change your life. It's never too late....
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 13 October 2010
Whatever I was expecting when I picked up this book, it certainly wasn't prostitution, drug dealing, War Criminals, Old Age sex, inter-racial sex, international crime, illegitimacy and pre-marital sex ... and yet, this book contains them all. And that's why I put 'unexpected' in my review title; I didn't have many preconceived ideas about what a Graham Greene novel would be like, but certainly I didn't expect all of the above to be discussed with such openness and without any judgements at all.
The storyline is wonderful - a prematurely elderly man meets his wild-child aunt and is whisked off into adventures that take him so far out of his comfort zone that one would expect him to fight back and disappear with a shudder of disgust into his previously safe life - but Henry surprises the reader and does no such thing.
Without giving too much away, this book sets Henry off in a direction he would never have considered for his own life and yet, he goes with it and enjoys it, which makes him quite unusual amongst timid heroes in my experience. Often in novels, a hero or heroine is given an opportunity to completely reshape their lives, like Henry is given, and they turn it down to return to their 'ordinary' lives. This often happens when characters are whisked off to fantasy worlds - they spend the entire book fighting to get back. Henry seizes the opportunity his aunt offers and sets off without a map or a compass into a brave new world. Good for him!
I did find the ending disappointing, I must say and not a little creepy, but that was about the only criticism I would have. Now that Graham Greene has surprised me, I will be looking out for some more of his books and would recommend you do the same.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 8 March 2002
A witty, inventive read for anyone with a travel bug. Opening in the Golders Green Crematorium, and making a break from suburban England to whizz you through times gone by where you could only wish to go - Paris in the days of currency restriction, the Orient Express to Istanbul, and all the way to South America. A pity the story had to end.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 30 October 2008
A decent read.Green can't resist going back to his favourite south america themes.The book's narrator,the main character is an interesting person.He is settled,enjoys the routine and rhthym of each day.He contemplates a union with an equally routine woman client from his bank manger days.His Aunt is diametrically opposite,always on the fringes of the law and taking risks.The slight problem for me is that the aunt is actually a bit of a bore in her unrelenting misbehaviour.She lacks a depth of emotions.As the story progresses her exploits become more extreme and she becomes a little unbelievable.His persona becomes a little lost and corrupted as the story continues.
Other characters are interesting during travels abroad.Something in the way green tells a story and brings colour into the narrative through his peripheral players in the book,keeps you turning the page.
A good read,but would have been better if aunt had been written in a more vulnerable way at times to compliment the know it all attitude,and pompus demeanor
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Henry Pulling is a retired bank manager. At his mother's funeral, he encounters his long lost aunt, Augusta. She manages to talk him into leaving suburbia and his dahlias behind to travel with her to Brighton, Istanbul, Boulogne and Paraguay. Along the way, he encounters lots of unusual people, and unusual circumstances.

This is a nice enough read, but I did find it all a bit silly. I didn't much like aunt Augusta's voice, which irritated me at times, and there were quite a few ridiculously coincidental meetings during the travels too.

This is not a book I would rave about, but pleasant enough if you like that sort of thing.
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on 22 June 2015
Graham Greene will never be remembered as a great comic novelist. He was certainly adept at creating potentially humorous situations. In 'Our Man in Havana', for example, Wormald, an impecunious vacuum cleaner salesman is recruited as a low key agent to forward reports to MI6 about life in Castro's Cuba. Realising that he might be able to generate a decent income from this, Wormald pretends to have recruited his own sub-network of agents and submits fictitious reports, only to be appalled to find that the events he has imagined began really to happen.

In 'Travels With My Aunt' Greene comes closest to achieving genuine humour. The novel opens with the funeral of Angelica Pulling who has died aged eighty-seven. The principal mourner is her son, Henry, who has recently retired from his post as manager of a provincial branch of a bank. Henry's has not been an eventful life, as evinced by his ambitions to pass his retirement rearing dahlias. He is not the sole mourner, though. Among the small group of friends and neighbours and those assorted waifs and strays that crop up at funerals is Augusta, Angelica's younger sister and Henry's aunt. Hitherto unaware even of her existence, Henry is gradually dragged into Augusta's inchoate life which is peopled by a heady melange of shady characters.

Henry finds himself going through some belated rites of passage, meeting a selection of his aunt's friends and acquaintances (though perhaps accomplices might be a more appropriate term for some of them). After an initial overnight jaunt to Brighton, where Henry has his fortune read in tea leaves by a former associate of his aunt, they then venture further afield, taking the Orient Express to Istanbul. While he may not have been the deftest of comic novelists, travel writing was a filed in which Greene did excel, and he imbues the story with glorious local colour.

Greene does succeed in setting up some comic scenarios, though somehow he never quite pulls them off. This is not particularly surprising - the principal attribute of most of Green's works is barely suppressed melancholia, with characters often oppressed by the burden of the aimless tedium of their existence. There are, after all, very few buskers or streets performers roaming the byways of Greeneland. The melancholia is at least held at bay here - the humour may not be of a kind to induce rampant guffawing, but some of the customary clouds have dispersed. Within Greene's own parameters, formed perhaps in a more austere tradition than pertains now, 'Travels With My Aunt' might almost constitute pure farce. Wodehouse might have rendered sheer comedy gold out of the set pieces that Greene constructs, but he would not have managed, nor even attempted, to plumb the depths of his characters in the way that Greene manages so effortlessly.
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