Travels with My Aunt opens at a funeral. Henry Puller, a middle-aged retired bank clerk is cremating his mother and meets a relative he hasn’t seen for a long time: his Aunt Augusta. The first thing she says to him is “I was once present at a premature cremation.” and both him and the reader realize they’re not dealing with the average 70-something year-old. Actually, Augusta is the proverbial excentric old Lady that you love to love, she’s even in an intense (and mostly sexual) relationship with a much younger Nigerian she calls Wordsworth.

As expected, Aunt Augusta takes Arthur’s peaceful and oh so boring life by storm. Once he agrees to travel with her, he enters a world of unexpected adventures which go from a tea-leaf reading session in Brighton, to a temporary arrest in South America. You see, Aunt Augusta is not always within the law, but she does it with style! Talking about prison, here’s what Graham Green wrote about Travels with my Aunt:

It is the only book I have written for the fun of it. Although the subject is old age and death – a suitable subject to tackle at the age of sixty-five – and though an excellent Swedish critic described the novel justly as laughter in the shadows of the gallows, I experienced more of the laughter and little of the shadow in writing it.

As with Stamboul Train, the book is filled with memorable characters: there’s Visconti, the Aunt’s Italian lover (think much older moustache guy from NYPD Blue); father and daughter Tooley, he a CIA agent undercover and she a scatterbrained traveller; and many more.

There are scores of coincidences and unlikely events, and apart from the obvious twist, plot is clearly not a top-priority. Henry is. We see him slowly going from the soft, dahlia-growing retiree to someone who first resists and then embraces his Aunt’s self-indulgent and irregular lifestyle. He even realises he cannot marry Ms Keen, probably the closest thing to a love-interest he’s has ever had. Poor Ms Keen, she keeps dropping hints she’d be ready to marry him and return to her beloved England, leaving behind her life in South Africa.  

I liked the book but not as much as I though, especially considering I love stories about people like Aunt Augusta. It took me ages to go through the 6 hours of audiobook, but I can’t really pinpoint why this tepid feeling. Maybe I was just rooting for Ms Keene…

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