I remembered, from my cashier days, faces just as timid as hers, peering through a hygienic barrier where a notice directed them to speak through a slit placed inconveniently low. I almost asked her whether she had an overdraft
Fast becoming a staple whenever I’m buying books, Graham Greene is getting an ever expanding grip on my bookshelf. Travels with my aunt, a perfect remedy to the intense The Power and the Glory is what Greene described himself, as one of his entertainments.
As Aunt Augusta travels in her mission to be re-united with her beloved Mr Visconti, Henry ambles along, thinking about home and his quiet life, like a sanctuary in the storm. But when he returns home he misses his flamboyant aunt and her captivating stories, which he fears at first, are somewhat embellished, and her fearless drive and belief that everything is possible, all you need is determination and a professed ignorance of the rules.
Even as almost complete opposites, Henry and Augusta are very real characters, people we have probably met or know in our own lives. Henry, slowly emerging from his routine lifetime, like a tortoise poking it’s head out of it’s shell, and Augusta, who brushes aside anything that doesn’t fit in with her plans, sucking in people in her slipstream, like poor Wordsworth who falls under her mesmerising spell, find in each other, perhaps what the other one lacks, but needs to continue.
At one point, when he fears he has lost his aunt, Henry admits to himself:
I was left with the sad impression that my aunt might be dead and the most interesting part of my life might be over. I had waited a long while for it to arrive, and it had not lasted very long
It is not hard to imagine Henry slipping back to his life of dahlias and the Major next door, despite the excitement, he remained Henry even when captivated by his aunt, the time he had spent with her at that point an unexpected blip in his life. Indeed, to Henry, it is the thought of losing Augusta that makes him appreciate the full impact she has had on him.
That is not the end however, Aunt Augusta returns. Although there is a darker under current throughout, as the indomitable Augusta whizzes along the edges of the criminal underclass as she homes in on Mr Visconti, Travels with my Aunt is a book you read with a wry smile on your face, a good portion of which is delivered via her cutting wit.
You could say that it is a novel about living your life to it’s fullest, but it’s not, partly because Henry is such a great character who remains grounded, complimenting the flighty Augusta. It’s a enjoyable story with very real characters, and deep down, most of us would love an Aunt Augusta, to pull us out of our everyday world.
‘He travelled from one woman to another Henry, all through his life. That comes to much the same thing. New landscapes, new customs. The accumulation of memories. A long life is not a question of years. A man without memories might reach the age of a hundred and feel that his life has been a very brief one’