Henry Pulling is a retired banker. He is unmarried and content spending time growing flowers at his home garden. At his mother’s funeral, he meets up with Aunt Augusta, a younger sister of his mother who was not in touch for decades. Aunt Augusta too is unmarried and they take a walk together after the funeral and decide to meet up frequently. And his Aunt reveals a secret to Henry that he is his father’s son but the mother who was dead was a step mother and he was born to someone else as a result of wandering of Henry’s father. Henry surprised with this revelation, wants to know more as no one else knows about this as his father is long dead and his mother (or step mother) is too dead now. He visits her aunt’s house and as he gets to know her more, he is drawn into a world of adventure, romance, and he travels to the places he had not seen in his conventional, predictable life as a banker.
When his aunt asks him to accompany for a travel, Henry joins her but he is not aware that they are going far away from London where they lived. Henry had not traveled out of his home country till then. And he did not have a slightest suspicion that his aunt is taking out gold (smuggling!) with her to pay for the foreign exchange they need. When he finds that and asks if she is aware that it is illegal, she smiles back and tells she has not read the law so she does not know what is legal or not and it does not matter for her. Travel takes them to Paris, and then to Istanbul. Over a series of conversations Henry learns about the past of his aunt and her lovers. Though she was not married, she had moved from one lover to another during her prime of life. And this travel was to meet the people from past life again. Henry gets to meet those people from his aunt’s past and that this travel had many purposes to serve for his Aunt.
After they return, Henry wants to know how his father had died and where he was buried. Who else can take Henry to his father’s grave? So Aunt Augusta joins him and they find another mourner there at his father’s grave, who was a lover of Henry’s father and was present when Henry’s father breathed his last breath. Henry is curious to know more details about his father from her but he is surprised to see how irritated his Aunt Augusta is with this new woman in his father’s life.
Aunt Augusta leaves for another travel leaving Henry behind. After several months, he is asked to join her and that journey takes him to Argentina and Paraguay. That is where his aunt has found an ex-lover of her and plans to get married with him and settle. And Henry learns that his aunt is his real mother and her elder sister had marred his father to cover up the mistake. And that Aunt Augusta along with her marriage plans, has a found a match for Henry too there.
This plot involving two elderly people (Henry in the mid 50’s and Aunt Augusta in the 70’s) and their journeys into their past is a fascinating story. I read this book during my commute hours between office and home (which is 2 hours a day one-way!) and I was transported into a fictional world created by the author and was so involved with this novel that I wondered how quickly two hours passed. It took me five sittings to completely read this novel. I was impressed by this author but felt somehow the end of this novel doe not go with the flow of it. Aunt Augusta after her marriage allows killing of her another lover Wordsworth but that does not seem to fit her character in this novel and Henry agreeing to marry a teenage girl too. And both of these central characters deciding to marry at an old age is strange since they remain unmarried for most of their life and did not not have inclination towards marriage till then.
This book was first published in 1969. Author Graham Greene has more than 25 novels to his credit and is one of the most widely read British novelists of the 20th century.