The novel begins when Henry Pulling, a conventional and uncharming bank manager who has taken early retirement, meets his septuagenarian Aunt Augusta for the first time in over fifty years at his mother's funeral. Despite having little in common, they form a bond. Henry finds himself drawn into Aunt Augusta's world of travel, adventure, romance and absence of bigotry. He travels first with her to Brighton, where he meets one of his aunt's old acquaintances, and gains an insight into one of her many past lives. Here a psychic foreshadows that he will have many travels in the near future. This prediction inevitably becomes true as Henry is pulled further and further into his aunt's lifestyle, and delves deeper into her past. Their voyages take them from Paris to Istanbul on the Orient Express, and as the journey unfolds, so do the stories of Aunt Augusta, painting the picture of a woman for whom love has been the defining feature of her life. Henry returns to his quiet retirement, but tending his garden no longer holds the same allure. When he receives a letter from his aunt, he finally gives up his old life to join her and the love of her life in South America, and to marry a girl decades younger than himself. As his travels progress it becomes clear to Henry that the woman he had been raised to believe was his mother was in fact his aunt. His real mother is Augusta, and her reconnection with him at her sister's funeral marked the beginning of her reclamation of her child.