Dublin Unitarian Book Club’s
choice for January 2021.

Travels with my Aunt
Graham Greene 1969

Henry Pulling is the main character, a retired bank manager, a pedestrian gentleman living a small life alone among his dusty volumes and his dahlias. On the death of his 86 yr old mother he is ‘agreeably excited by the forthcoming funeral’. His estranged 75 yr old aunt Augusta appears, sister to his mother Angelica, and she turns his life around. Within 24 hours he has tippled with her in her flat, met her Sierra Leonian paramour and been approached by police who take his mother’s urn which is found to contain marijuana. The book follows them as she leads him through a wild selection of cities and experiences reliving her subversive, flamboyant and amoral life and meeting some exceptional characters.
          This emotionally stunted gentleman discovers Augusta is his birth mother and he loyally warms to some of her characteristics which strike a hidden chord with him. He has his eyes opened to a very different world.
          This is the only Graham Greene book which he said he wrote ‘for the fun of it.’ He uses it to poke fun at 1950’s morality and respectability and to reveal a seedier side to life.

Marian McCaughley
Dublin Unitarian Church

This novel is set in the late 1960’s, a decade of great societal change in the world. It tells the story of Henry Pulling, a bachelor who has retired from his job as a Bank Manager, he is the epitomey of a character from middle class England in the first half of the 20th Century. That all changes when he meets his bohemian Aunt Augusta, for the first time after her 50 years absence, at his mother Angelica’s funeral.
          Henry becomes embroiled, and not unwittingly in Augusta’s world where we encounter characters such as Wordsworth, Augusta’s current lover who is half her age from Sierra Leone. Wordsworth is under police surveillance and he hides cannabis in Henry’s mother’s funeral urn to avoid detection, and so begins a new chapter in Henry’s life which is far from his safe suburban middle class existence of cultivating dahlias and his neighbour the ‘Major’ next door, Henry embarks on a series of journeys with Augusta firstly to Brighton then Paris, Istanbul via the Orient Express and lastly Paraguay. Along the way Augusta regales Henry with stories of her very colourful past which includes many unusual lifetime situations and lovers one of which has endured to the present, Mr.Visconti, a very dodgy character who collaborated with the Germans in Italy during WWII, and so we get the picture of the murky underworld that Augusta has been living in for the past fifty years.
          Graham Greene is poking fun at society and it’s ‘norms’ in this farce and we should not take it too seriously as we find ourselves being entertained by very unsavoury characters involved in embezzlement, money laundering and political corruption.
          In the end Henry chooses a new ‘business’ life with Augusta and Visconti in Paraguay and leaves behind England’s safe suburbia. I think Greene is questioning why we make certain decisions that shape our lives, are we free to make them or are we victims of circumstance?

Alison Claffey
Dublin Unitarian Church