Saturday, June 16, 2012
Travels with my aunt. By Graham Greene
Graham Greene pours himself a whisky. Photograph: Kurt Hutton/Getty Images
When I was 17 years old and was studying English, I had to read a couple of books by Graham Greene, and among them, -of course- Travels with my aunt. Now, I know I liked it but cannot remember the story. Anyway, my favorite one, in those years, was The Painted Veil, by Somerset Maugham and my interpretation of this novel´s name in the oral exam surprised the professor and allowed me a high score.
Today, I share part of Sam Jordison´s review of Travels with my aunt:
The book stands up well to rereading – but it's such a fun book to discover for the first time that I've felt a few twinges. I'm jealous of those of you in the Reading group who are coming to Travels with My Aunt for the first time. And if it's your first encounter with Graham Greene then I envy you all the more. Having said that, I also have some concern for those coming to Graham Greene for the first time. Travels with My Aunt is an excellent demonstration of his talent, wit and dark sense of humour. It should not, however, be taken as wholly representative of the author and his work. In fact, taking anything as representative of Graham Greene is a perilous business. Norman Sherry, his official biographer, spent 30 years trying to pin him down – and ended up hopelessly floundering; as he put it, "a burnt out case". Greene was (to say the least) a complicated man. The jovial humourist that guides us through Travels with My Aunt was a part of him – but by no means the whole. He also had a far darker side. Some of that is evident in Travels with My Aunt – although I shan't say too much at this stage for the sake of those still reading. Otherwise, it might interest you to know, for instance, that the author was bipolar and struggled with depression. At Oxford, he claimed, he spent most of his time drinking. And some of it playing Russian roulette. He was also, for a good part of his life, a secret agent. True to Greene's character, this already complex situation became frequently bizarre, confusing and absurd. It wasn't just that it sent him to strange places and into contact with extremely shady people. He ended up working for (and became apparently good friends with) the traitor Kim Philby. And even though he was in the service of MI6, he was banned from the US because he once joined the Communist party – a brief association he later claimed came about as "a joke".