If you’ve wrapped Slaughterhouse-Five (details on this weekend’s discussion below), you should be ready for book two of our 1969 Book Club list: Graham Greene’s comic novel, Travels with My Aunt.
Graham Greene once told The Paris Review (in this slightly curmudgeonly interview) that his characters did not draw on people he knew. “One never knows enough about characters in real life to put them into novels,” he said “One gets started and then, suddenly, one can not remember what toothpaste they use; what are their views on interior decoration, and one is stuck utterly.” So what are we to make of Aunt Augusta? Even Greene seemed not to know where she came from. “When I began with the scene of the cremation of Henry Pulling’s supposed mother and his encounter with Aunt Augusta I didn’t believe for a moment that I would continue the novel for more than a few days,” he wrote. “Every day when I sat down before the blank sheets of foolscap (for as symbol of my new freedom I had abandoned the single lined variety where the lines seemed to me now like the bars on a prison window) I had no idea what was going to happen to Henry or Augusta next. I felt like a rider who has dropped the reins and left the direction to his horse or like a dreamer who watches his dream unfold without power to alter its course.”
A journey from London to Brighton to Istanbul to South America, the book was singled out by Sam Jordison in The Guardian for its “hilarious send-up of 1960s counter culture,” but has it aged 50 years later? Greene had a remarkably long career, and in contrast to many authors was publishing some of his greatest novels – such as The Honorary Consul – in his 70s. Travels with my Aunt was published just a little earlier, but it was also something of a literary bauble, the only book he claims to have written “for the fun of it.”
We’ll be enlisting the help of contemporary novelist, Christopher Bollen, to discuss the merits of Travels with My Aunt towards the end of the month. In the meantime, happy reading!