Category Archives: Greene For Gran

Travels With My Aunt – Graham Greene

Once again, this time with ‘Travels With My Aunt’ my final Greene for Gran read, Graham Greene has done that thing of writing a book which I loved, got a bit frustrated and bored with and then sat back and thought about and have decided that whilst it wasn’t my favourite read of all time it is a bloody clever book indeed. Oh Gran… why oh why can’t you be on the end of the phone anymore for me to have a good old natter with you about this book? So frustrating, thankfully I have lots of you to discuss it with hopefully.

Vintage Classics, 1969 ( 1999 edition), paperback, 262 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Henry Pulling is a retired man who is very comfortable with his life, he doesn’t really want for anything and the highlight of excitement in his life are his dahlias which he tends to in a way some might say could be bordering on obsession. No gardening pun intended on the ‘bordering’ there. That is until the funeral of his mother and the arrival of his long lost septuagenarian (a word I will be promptly adding to my vocabulary) Aunt Augusta. From their first meeting at the funeral of his mother, where Aunt Augusta announces that his mother might not have been his mother at all, and the coffee in her apartment after, where he meets her man servant/lover Wentworth who swaps Henry’s mothers ashes for some marijuana, you know things are not going to be all flowers and regularly delivered cooked favourite meals before.

“I was weeding the dahlias, the Polar Beauties and the Golden Leaders and the Requiems, when my telephone began to ring. Being unused to the sound which shattered all the peace in my little garden, I assumed it was a wrong number. I had very few friends, although before my retirement I boasted a great many acquaintances.”

Aunt Augusta is what many people would politely describe as a ‘character’, those who might want to be more base would say she was a slightly crazy woman in her seventies who isn’t against the odd illegal action along with an abundance of sex from many a lover, which as we learn has always been the way. She is brass, quite coarse, a bit vulgar and rather naughty (for which I naturally loved her) and also a woman of a certain sense of danger, darkness and mystery (which I naturally wanted to discover more of) in fact of all Greene’s characters I have come across Aunt Augusta is probably my favourite and cleverly Greene never allows her to become a farce no matter how funny or crude she is being. I did often laugh out loud at paragraphs like this.

‘I very much doubt it,’ she said. ‘My dear Henry,’ she added, ‘at my age one has ceased to expect a relationship to last. Think how complicated life would be if I had kept in touch with all the men I have known intimately. Some died, some I left, a few have left me. If they were all with me now we would have to take over a whole wing of the Royal Albion. I was very fond of Wordsworth while he lasted, but my emotions are not as strong as they once were. I can support his absence, though I may regret him for a while tonight. His knackers were superb.’   

It was strange reading this later, 1969, Greene novel as for the first fifty or so pages of the book I felt like this was an author simply writing for the pleasure of it (it was his twentieth novel after all) and it seemed much more carefree. A simple tale of a happy, but boring, man who meets a wild relative and finds himself gallivanting all over the world on her whims/dodgy dealings. Then throw in some crazy characters, like a CIA Agent who counts the amount of minutes he spends urinating every day, and lots of rather rude titillation and hey presto an entertaining romp. That would have done me fine. Yet like ‘Our Man From Havana’ Greene also has a lot more going on with the book which slowly comes to focus as the laughter started to lessen.

To hand it to Greene he fits a lot in with this book. He looks at prostitution, the Nazi regime and how WWII changed the world, the plight of third world countries and even manages to swing in some commentary on the apartheid in South Africa along with how the pill had, rightly or wrongly, changed women’s sexual awakening and responsibility. Oh and (just for a change, possibly a sign of too much of an author not always being a good thing as it really got on my wick in this book) of course the subject of religion and Greene’s favourite topic of conversation Catholicism.

With the admiration of all these ‘hot topics’ that Greene interweaves within ‘Travels With My Aunt’ also comes a slight criticism for me. I felt that Greene suddenly worried he was almost having too much fun and that actually really we should be focussed on these subjects in hand and think on. Whilst it did add meat to the book, for me it also really bogged me down. I found the final part of the book, which to be fair is only 80 pages of the novels total, a real slog until Greene suddenly stepped it up a gear leading to the ending, which I guessed part of and then had a real ‘yuck’ feeling around the final two sentences.

Greene does this too me a lot as an author, leaves me feeling like I have read something rather brilliant even if I didn’t always enjoy the whole thing, more the sum of his parts. His prose is always lush and masterful and yet his plots sometimes make me ponder. ‘Travels With My Aunt’ could have just been a really entertaining and quirky read, and in many ways it remains that, there is just a little bit of a forced feeling of an author wanting to be deemed worthy that dampens it on occasion and makes the book feel much longer than it is. Or am I being too harsh?

Gran and I would have argued the toss about this for a few hours I am sure, with me possibly having to admit defeat at some point, but then the best books inspire debate don’t they –  so thanks Gran for making me give this a whirl! Greene will certainly be an author I will be returning to… though maybe not in quite such a concentrated dose. What have been your thoughts on Greene, and if any of you have read ‘Travels With My Aunt’ did you find the deeper undertones a little too try hard, or did they make the book a more fulfilling reading experience for you?

And don’t forget to let me know if you have read any Greene’s for Gran, what you thought of them and if you reviewed them where you did so.

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The Greene For Gran Gang!

So back at the end of July I decided that in honour of my lovely Granny Savidge Reads, who sadly passed away last month after a courageous battle with a tumour, that as she was such a bookish influence on me I should do something to commemorate that and her here on the blog, where she came to know some of you and vice versa. Her favourite author, well one of them, was Graham Greene and after the eulogy I gave at her funeral ended with me telling everyone to ‘go and grab a Greene for Gran’ I would do the same here and so Greene for Gran was born.

Well I have to admit, I was utterly blown away by the response and how many of you said you would spread the word and give Greene a go. Brilliant. I decided to go Greene crazy and read four very different novels of his. Well, I didn’t quite manage to complete the #GreeneForGran challenge that I set myself, but three out of four isn’t so bad – especially considering I have been working on an inaugural month long music festival. Plus, as with my experiences of his books before, Greene is one of those authors that I really, really like and sometimes find a little bit baffling. I utterly LOVED ‘The Ministry of Fear’ and yet really didn’t love ‘The Quiet American’; you will have to wait a teeny bit longer to see how I got on with ‘Travels With My Aunt’.

I haven’t managed ‘The Heart of the Matter’ but actually I think that is a good thing. Because I don’t want to only read Greene for Gran just for one month, I want books and an author (along with Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Andrea Levy and many more) that I can read from time to time and will make me think of Gran (I had a slightly emotional moment starting Atkinson’s ‘Life for Life’ the other day as I wanted to phone Gran and tell her how great it was and how she should read it) in the future, and I think a lot of books will.

Anyway, before I get too mushy, here are some links to those of you who have been reading some Graham Greene books and who may, or may not, get you dashing off to do the same – if you haven’t had incentive enough already – I am calling them Gran’s Gang, ha!

The Ministry of Fear

Some guy named Simon of Savidge Reads
Heaven Ali
Nose In A Book

The Quiet American

Harriet Devine
That pesky Savidge Reads again

England Made Me

Annabel’s House of Books

Stamboul Train

Harriet Devine
Heaven Ali

The Third Man/No Man’s Land

Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party

Annabel’s House of Books

Now as I mentioned I still have my thoughts on ‘Travels With My Aunt’ to come and I am pretty sure that I have missed lots and lots of reviews, my brain is addled after the last week, so if you have blogged about Greene or when you do please let me know and I will add you to the gang. If you don’t have a blog let me know what Greene books you have read and what you thought of them down there too, is lovely to see Gran’s love of a good book spreading, I just wish she could have a good natter with us about them!

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The Quiet American – Graham Greene

And so a little belatedly we come to the second in my ‘Greene for Gran’ series and one I feel a little bit awkward about. In part because I feel a fool for struggling so long with such a short book and in the main because I was severely underwhelmed by it and has it not been in Gran’s honour it would have been a book that would have felt the tough love of my new reading rule. Yet, in fairness I don’t think it was all the fault of ‘The Quiet American’, or even Graham Greene, himself that I didn’t love it, maybe. Let me explain…

Vintage Classics, 1955 ( 2004 edition), paperback, 221 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘The Quiet American’ opens with Thomas Fowler waiting for his friend Alden Pyle, very swiftly we learn that Pyle is dead and that people suspect that there may be foul play. As Fowler is informed of this he starts to tell us the story of how he met Pyle, himself being British and Pyle being American, in the surroundings of Hanoi during the First Indochina War. Fowler has come as a journalist to report on the war, Pyle is more mysterious yet they befriend each other until a love triangle with Fowler’s, who is married back in Britain, mistress Phuong. Intrigue and mystery are abounds…

‘You sound like a friend of his,’ Vigot said, looking past me at Phuong. A native policeman came in with three cups of black coffee.
‘Or would you rather have tea?’ Vigot said
‘I am a friend,’ I said. ‘Why not? I shall be going home in one day, won’t I? I can’t take her with me. She’ll be alright with him. It’s a reasonable arrangement. And he’s going to marry her, he says. He might, you know. He’s a good chap in his way. Serious. Not one of those noisy bastards at the Continental. A quiet American,’ I summed him precisely up as I might have said ‘a blue lizard,’ ‘a white elephant.’

…Well they should have been, but for me it was a mixture of being very confused to start off with and then finding the ending a little too blindingly obvious. If you haven’t read the book and want to miss a possible hint that could be a spoiler skip to the next paragraph. You see initially I was intrigued then it became so obvious what had happened that I was a bit cross, did Greene think I, his reader, was that stupid? To be fair many people who guessed the ending too would possibly then see this book as a very clever and twisting ‘whydunnit’, I just got confused and bored. I simply couldn’t get a hold on the book both in the plot and in the style.

The plot of the book, once you get to the end, all makes sense – well sort of if you do some googling – but I didn’t feel that Greene successfully explained to you what was going on with the First Indochina War sufficiently, he seemed to expect you to know the setting. Now this of course I imagine is in part because the book came out close to when the war was and also possibly because as Greene had been there himself (which makes the atmosphere so right in the book) he simply assumed you would get it. I didn’t. This also wasn’t helped by the fact that just a paragraph can flip between Fowler telling you something in his present and then flipping to his past and back again. It made me a bit grumpy and I alas I just wasn’t enjoying it, even when things got much better and twisty at the end (as several of you who supported me through it on Twitter said it would), it had lost me.

Now to be fair I will say that the idea of the book, in hindsight, is a bloody brilliant one. It is just that the execution didn’t work for me which meant the clever twists that came, which I admired so much in ‘The Ministry of Fear’ fell on deaf ears. However as always Greene’s prose and his sense of atmosphere was just marvellous and stopped me from hurling the book across the room. (Gran would be pleased with me for trying to find some saving graces here.) I do also think the timing and the way I started reading the book might have had something to do with it all too.

When I started ‘The Quiet American’ firstly I was in the middle of a really stressful, information filled, final bonkers planning week at work and secondly as the book hadn’t arrived I was reading it on my K*****!! I have been dabbling with reading on my devil’s device of late and I am discovering that it doesn’t always encourage full mental focus. If I have been on a computer all week reading for pleasure on a screen isn’t so much pleasure (a whole separate subject) and in this case I think it added to my confusion, my eyes would glaze a bit at the screen and so I was re-reading and re-reading paragraphs whilst having a mass of ‘work stuff’ to digest mentally too. So that probably didn’t help.

I think the best way to surmise and stop waffling is probably to say that ‘The Quiet American’ is probably a very good book but not the right book for me right now. It seemed to be a case of ‘it’s not the book, it’s me’ and as I know it is a favourite of so many I am sure that is the case. One to pop on the shelves and save to read again sometime in the future I think. (Gran would be proud of my attitude here too, ha!)

Who else has read ‘The Quiet American’ and if so what did you think? I would love to hear from some of you who have read it and found it a real favourite, and indeed any of you who like me felt a bit out of their depth. What other Greene’s are you picking up?

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The Ministry of Fear – Graham Greene

For some reason I had got it into my head that ‘The  Ministry of Fear’, my first read for Greene for Gran, was going to be something of a rather light hearted farce along the lines of ‘Our Man in Havana’ only with mystery, murder and cake I might like it a bit more. Yes, shock horror I have read Greene before and not always enjoyed him, more so in his farcical writing it has to be said which always  made Gran look very perplexed when we discussed his works. Sorry Gran, good news though, I really liked this one because it did so much more than I was expecting it to.

Vintage Books, 1943 ( 2001 edition), paperback, 221 pages, borrowed from the library

Arthur Rowe is a man who finds himself in a war that, apart from when the sirens go off and people head down to the shelters, he finds he has very little involvement or even real feeling for. He spends his days wandering and thinking about his past (which once you discover it explains why he isn’t fighting in the war) and spending his monthly allowance on this and that as is his want. It is on one of these trips that he stumbles upon a charity fete, which he can’t help but enter as it reminds him of his childhood. So far so innocent, though as he visits the stalls something seems slightly amiss. Arthur’s perceptions aren’t wrong as it is the simple act of guessing the weight of a cake throws Arthur into a world of spies, mystery and murder, though as we discover Arthur himself is no stranger to the latter.

“There was something threatening, it seemed to him, in the very perfection of the day.”

Greene’s line above perfectly sums up the brilliant start of ‘The Ministry of Fear’ as you read on things get stranger and stranger and darker and darker. Charities suddenly have a dark undercurrent and you question if you can trust anyone no matter how sweet they might seem on the face of it. It goes from twee English war novel, to slight Agatha Christie territory (a séance indeed) only darker and then into a full on spy thriller as the book goes on and you as the reader get further and further drawn into a web of espionage and secrets in the war torn present and also the dark recesses of Arthur’s past.

“People want to kill me because I know too much. I’m hiding underground, and up above the Germans are methodically smashing London to bits all around me. You remember St Clements – the bells of St Clements. They’ve smashed that – St James’s, Piccadilly, the Burlington Arcade, Garland’s Hotel, where we stayed for the pantomime, Maples and John Lewis. It sounds like a thriller, doesn’t it, but the thrillers are like life – more like life than you are, this lawn, your sandwiches, that pine. You used to laugh at books Miss Savage read – about spies, and murderers, and violence, and wild motor-car chases, but dear that’s real life: it’s what we’ve made the world since you died. I’m your little Arthur who wouldn’t hurt a beetle and I’m a murderer too.”

Greene also does something very daring as after throwing you into this world in the first part of the book he suddenly throws you somewhere completely different and unexpected in the second which you won’t see coming. This leaves you briefly disorientated, which you soon gather is the point, and then a whole new set of sinister thrills and spills start. I was reading along thinking ‘I wonder if Gillian Flynn read this book before she wrote ‘Gone Girl’?’ not because of the narrators but just because of the genuinely surprising turns that Greene throws in the readers direction.

As well as being quite a page turner, though I wouldn’t go quite as far as to say it became so compelling I couldn’t put it down, Greene shows what a master he is not only of atmosphere (war torn and spy strewn London) but of writing a book which takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions as much as it does thrills. Some of the book I found profoundly moving, both the descriptions of the destruction the war inflicted and also in an element I can’t explain here for fear of spoilers – but I will in the comments if people fancy a natter about it. Greene also made me laugh out loud on several occasions which, with all the tension and twists, proved much needed and added a great contrast of light amongst the dark.

“The summer lay all around them, and evening was coming on. He was saying ‘Mother, I murdered her…’ and his mother said, ‘Don’t be silly, dear. Have one of these nice sandwiches.’”

I have now read five of Graham Greene’s works, with more to come, and I think out of what I have read so far ‘The Ministry of Fear’ might be my favourite because it mixes all of his styles in one novel. It has the humour of ‘Our Man in Havana’, the brooding gloom of ‘Brighton Rock’, and the ability to completely move/ruin you as ‘The End of the Affair’ did me, it blew me away back in my pre-blogging days. It is also one of those books, which I love, where you can see where it took riffs from books just before it or of its time (Agatha Christie) and also where you could spot where novelists now (Gillian Flynn, Alex Lemaitre) might have got their inspiration from. I am really glad that I have read this, my only regret it that I can’t have a good old natter with Gran about it as I think she would have been delighted to see me so impressed by one of Greene’s lesser known works. Good thing I have all of you to chat about it with then, isn’t it?

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Greene For Gran Update…

So my plan for two posts went completely out the window yesterday, I am time poor at the mo, and you are only getting the one today. The response to  my idea to start ‘Greene For Gran’, or if you are down with the tweets then #GreeneForGran, has just been incredible and I genuinely didn’t expect so many readers (some who I know some who don’t) along with bookshops and booksellers to take to it the way that people have, very heart warming stuff.

One of the things I was thinking is how on earth to keep up with all the reviews and the like if people decide to give it a whirl as I would really love to collect all of these for the last day in August and so people can go and read more reviews and hopefully read even more Graham Greene, as would be Grans want. So could I ask you all very nicely if you would email me your reviews to savidgereads@gmail.com or link your post to the first Greene For Gran post here, then I will be notified and can keep tabs on it all. Also let me know if you have spread the word on the whole project, because then I will love you all the more 😉

Now I did state that there would be no pressure for you all to readalong, and there still isn’t, though I am going to throw the option out there. I have decided I am going to read four Greene’s in total, one for every remaining week of the month, including this one, and pop posts on them up on set days. This is so that IF YOU WANT TO, no pressure honest, you can join in with the discussion of that title on that day should you decide to read it. So here are the four books and the dates.

   

  • The Ministry of Fear (Saturday 10th of August)
  • The Quiet American (Friday 16th of August)
  • Travels With My Aunt (Friday 23rd of August)
  • The Heart of the Matter (Friday 30th of August)

Then have some kind of Greene and Gran love in at the end with all the posts and a giveaway from the lovely ladies at Vintage Books who think that all of this is a rather lovely idea. Hooray! Sound like  an idea, a no pressure on of course, to you all?

Whilst we are on the subject, how are you all getting on with your Greenes?

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Greene For Gran…

Again I can’t thank you all enough for your lovely comments here, on Twitter, Facebook and in my inbox about Gran and the bit of her eulogy I featured on the blog recently. One of the things that has been really lovely to see/hear is the fact that many of you have been out and gone and bought/borrowed (using Gran as an excuse, which she would love) a Graham Greene book in her honour. After having a natter about it with Stu of Winstons Dads Blog and Simon of Stuck in a Book on Twitter I have decided to start ‘Greene for Gran’ or #GreeneForGran throughout the whole of August as a fitting memory to Dorothy Savidge, I guess explaining exactly what that means would help wouldn’t it?

GG

Well as Gran loved Graham Greene so much, and as she frequently reminded me – bless her – that I was prone to reading too many modern books, I thought I would go and try a few more of Graham Greene’s novels on and off throughout August, maybe one a week. This will culminate in some kind of Greene-a-thon on the last few days of it and, as a nod to Gran, I would love it if you joined in. Let’s face it you have quite a selection of novels, short story collections and non-fiction to choose from, so many in fact I am just going to link to his bibliography and save my fingers!) You can read as many or as few as you like, there are really no rules apart from giving Greene a go, or another go… for Gran!

I have had a chat with the lovely ladies at Vintage books and they have kindly agreed to give a few copies away here and there too. I just love the idea that Gran would love the idea of you all reading him because of her, she would get a real kick out of it especially if we make sure that we natter about it in the comments over a cup of tea and a nice slice of cake as Gran and I often used to…

Speaking of cake, nice sedge-way there Savidge, I think the Greene I will give a whirl to first will be ‘The Ministry of Fear’ which has my favourite title and sounds like a hoot. “For Arthur Rowe the charity fete was a trip back to childhood, to innocence, a welcome chance to escape the terror of the Blitz, to forget twenty years of his past and a murder. Then he guesses the weight of the cake, and from that moment on he’s a hunted man, the target of shadowy killers, on the run and struggling to remember and to find the truth.” Genius! Yes, that will do me nicely.

So who is up for trying something new, revisiting an old favourite or giving Greene another whirl? Which title will you go for? Let me know in the comments, I will share everyone’s reviews at the end of August so hopefully people can discover even more. Do spread the word here and there if you can and #GreeneForGran on a certain media site. Would be lovely to have lots of you joining in! The more the merrier, as I am sure Gran would agree.

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