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Fiction

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

This is the fifth Graham Greene’s novel I am reading. I am a great fan of Graham Greene The Quiet American who caught me at hello to the obsession in The End of the Affair, Greene’s novels are all thought provoking with a common theme of religion and men who commit character defects due to desperation.

I knew long time ago my next Greene novel would be ‘Our Man in Havana’. When I saw a new copy on the library shelf, I took it home.

‘Our Man in Havana’ is of course set in Cuba under the regime of Batista and our protagonist James Wormold, whose wife has left him alone with his daughter, Milly. Milly is rather high maintenance in more ways than one and it is this trait that sends her poor father in debt. Wormold sells vacuum cleaners for a living with the odd drink with his friend Dr Hasselbacher. This all changes however when he meets Hawthorne, a man from British Intelligence who is looking for a new agent in Cuba and who decides that the inconspicuous Wormold with its legitimate small business as cover, is the perfect man for the job.

To please his superior and justify the big expenditure for his and the daughter’s high maintenance lives, Wormold starts making up fictitious agents, suspicious findings and tales of espionage in the depths of Cuba. Things start to get a little more complicated for Wormold, and materials of dark comedy, as the things he makes up start to actually happen.

Told to recruit agents, he fabricates the economist, Professor Sanchez, the engineer Cifuentes, the strip club dancer, Teresa, and the pilot Raul, who is soon spotting sinister constructions in the heart of the wilds and supplying blueprints that Wormold has concocted from the workings of his vacuum cleaners. He gets more than he bargained for, as London responds by sending him a secretary, Beatrice, and a radio operator, to assist him in this more-than-one man-could-handle mission.

Now what is Wormold going to do now that London has sent someone over to monitor his work and possibly uncover his fradulence? To add to his pressure from London, a certain Captain Segura who is rumoured to carry a cigarette case is upholstered with human skin and the master of torture, has his eyes on Milly and is coercing Wormold to persuade Milly to marry him….

They can print a statistics and count the populations in hundreds of thousands, but to each man a city consists of no more than a few streets, a few houses, a few people. Remove those few and a city exists no longer except as a pain in the memory, like the pain of an amputated leg no longer there. – page 189 

The book is written as spy caper’s long before Ian Fleming began its 007 series. Greene had been part of MI6 in the 1940’s and seemed able to predict many future political development around the world and in this case the Cuban Missile crisis, which render this book written close to 60 years ago is still as relevant. I did not expect the book to be a dark comedy so I was pleasantly surprise myself for laughing out loud in some parts when our protagonist was supposed to be mired in a tangle of deception and in a very serious trouble. He cannot go on as he is, but he is set in his ways and wedded to mediocre respectability and keep up the appearance of a respectable Englishman abroad.

Writing to his mistress Catherine Walston in 1956, Greene told her that Our Man in Havana was potentially a ‘very funny plot which if it comes off will make a footnote to history’. To a certain extent, it did. The book reads like a breeze. A good choice if you are looking for dark comedy. I always love Greene simple and clear prose. It makes reading his novel a smooth ride, but the simplicity belies many layers of meanings. In this case, it is a decision to do the right thing for love, even if it defies your employer’s command. I find the story entertaining with good twist and plot, if you don’t mind that the novel ended with one happy, cheesy ending.

Rating: 

I’m reading this for the Graham Greene’s challenge.

Paperback. Publisher: Vintage 2004, originally published in 1958; Length: 2 pages; Setting: Havana, Cuba and London. Source: Reading Battle Library. Finished reading at: 30th March 2012.

Other views:

Litlove : The sole hope of the novel is placed firmly in the individual’s stamina for love, despite everything that happens to that abused emotion. That very investment in love means that the novel has a rather weak but unexpectedly happy ending. It didn’t matter so much to me; I’d been reading for Greene’s mocking portrait of government intelligence, his subtle inquiry into questions of faith, courage and credulity, his vivid and poignant evocation of the complex knots of loyalty which bind lives together and his brilliant description of Cuba; these elements kept me loving this book and admiring Greene’s formidable skills as a novelist.

Savidge reads : I was definitely entertained with ‘Our Man in Havana’ yet I don’t think I was ever well and truly sold on it, I think I wanted and expected more maybe, the fault could therefore be mine. I’m still glad I read it though. 6.5/10

I think it being my second novel of Greene’s that I read honestly didn’t help this book, especially after the first was the impeccable ‘The End of the Affair’.

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books.

Discussion

16 thoughts on “Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

  1. I absolutely love Graham Greene – I love his style of writing. It is so simple and yet conveys so much. I haven’t read this one – I think I have it and I’m looking forward to reading another Greene at some point. I didn’t like Travels with My Aunt so much last year, which may have been a point of mood – but I loved The End of the Affair and The Quiet American, so so so good and so beautifully written.

    Posted by Fiona | April 7, 2012, 12:21 pm
    • Fiona,
      Thanks for stopping by my blog.. The Quiet American and The End of Affairs are sooo good aren’t they
      I’m thinking of reading a few more Greene’s novels.. and would have to think harder what to read now that I have almost read all his best!

      Maybe Brighton Rock, or Human Factor.

      Posted by JoV | April 8, 2012, 11:01 am
      • I have head that The Human Factor is very good and it’ll probably be the next one of his I read (going that I can find it).

        I think even if I don’t enjoy the story I always enjoy Greene’s writing style. It’s precise with not a word wasted nor too flouncey, but it isn’t minimalist either. Brighton Rock was my first Greene – I have a feeling I’d enjoy it more now if I read it the second time. It made me realise that I loved his writing, even though the story wasn’t quite my thing.

        Posted by Fiona | April 8, 2012, 2:21 pm
  2. I love Greene this was first of his I read ,so funny in places and I always thought maybe not that far removed from how the secret service might been at times ,I recently got his autobiography ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | April 7, 2012, 8:13 pm
  3. Gosh, I am hopeless! I haven’t read a single Greene. What’s his best that you suggest I start with,JoV?

    Posted by Soul Muser | April 8, 2012, 12:43 pm
    • Soul,
      Try Our Man in Havana to give you a good laugh. Otherwise read The Quiet American and watch Edward Woodward and Brendan Fraser in the movie. I would suggest The Quiet American first. If you want to read about his affair with his mistress Catherine, try “The End of the Affair”. he is a very colourful character, this Graham Greene. ;)
      Great to have you back.

      Posted by JoV | April 9, 2012, 10:52 am
  4. Wonderful review, Jo! I haven’t read much of Graham Greene – I think I have read only ‘The Burnt Out Case’ and ‘The Heart of the Matter’ – but that was many years back and I didn’t really understand the novels much. I should start reading Greene soon. ‘Our Man in Havana’ looks like a wonderful novel from your description. It reminds me very much of ‘The Tailor of Panama’ by John Le Carre. It looks like Carre was very much inspired by Greene’s work.

    Posted by Vishy | April 9, 2012, 7:26 am
    • Vishy,
      Thanks for stopping by. I really must read John Le Carre soon to compare. I watch ‘The Tailor of Panama’ on big screen and love it. You need to read Greene again. He is my favourite!

      Posted by JoV | April 9, 2012, 9:56 am
  5. I am still to read anything by Graham Greene, is there one you would recommend me to start with? Also I love the Vintage edition cover :-)

    Posted by jessicabookworm | April 9, 2012, 10:42 am
  6. I always heard this was one of Greene’s lightest novels, which would I’d find a welcome thing. Don’t get me wrong, I sort of worship the ones you mention in your first paragraph, but “The End of the Affair” did this to me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xox9BVSu7Ok.

    Posted by Doug | April 12, 2012, 1:38 am

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  1. Pingback: March 2012 : Wrap-up! « JoV's Book Pyramid - April 10, 2012

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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