Henry Pulling is a bachelor a former bank manager, now in retirement. His life is simple; to care for his dahlias. His retirement is a slow as his working life. That is, until his mother dies and he meets his aunt at her funeral. Without knowing it his life will never again be the same.
His aunt, in her mid seventies, is still full of life and invites him to accompany her on her travels. Starting with a short one, to Brighton, he starts to get an idea that his aunt is not what he thought. She reveals an anecdote here and an anecdote there giving him a small insight into her past life. When she persuades him to join him for a trip to Istanbul with the Orient Express, there is no way back.
Being Graham Greene, everything is not what it seems to be and the life of his aunt takes a turn to the unexpected. It is a pleasure to read about the trips, the surroundings and the people that Pulling meets, all very well described. Fascinating characters, all told in his low key prose, with a pinch of wonderful British humour.
”There was nothing to to sit on in the cell - only a piece of sacking under a barred window too high for me to see anything but a patch of monotonous sky. Somebody had written on the wall in Spanish - perhaps a prayer, perhaps an obscenity, I couldn’t tell. I sat down on the sacking and prepared for a long wait. The wall opposite me reminded me of what my aunt had said: I trained myself to be thankful that the wall seemed to keep its distance.”The laid back person who takes things as they come.
”It took him more than an hour or two to persuade them to let me go, but they forgot to take the cahir from the cell after he’d gone and they brought me some thin gruel, and these I took for favourable signs. To my own surprise I wasn’t bored, though there was nothing I could usefully add to the history on the wall, except two problematical dates for Tunis and Havana. I began in my head to compose a letter to Miss Keene describing my present circumstances: ’I have insulted the ruling part of Paraguay and I’m mixed up with a war criminal wanted by Interpol. For the first offence the maximum penalty is ten years. I am in a small cell ten feet by six, and I have nothing to sleep on but a piece of sacking. I have no idea what is going to happen next, but I confess I am not altogether unhappy, I am too deeply interested.’ I would never really write the letter, for she would be quite unable to reconcile the writer with the man she had known.”
While reading I was wondering whether it had been filmed or not. When I read the book, I imagined Maggie Smith as the characterful aunt. When I checked, it was filmed and Maggie Smith played the aunt. The film is on youtube, so will try to watch it one of these days. Watching Maggie Smith is always a pleasure!
That was the last of the Graham Greene’s books on my TBR shelves. However, I am sure I will read more books in the future by this wonderful writer. Earlier books read and reviewed are The Human Factor and Our Man in Havana.