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Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Our Man in Havana (original 1958; edition 1997)

by Graham Greene

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3,358691,619 (3.88)223
Title:Our Man in Havana
Authors:Graham Greene
Info:Folio Society, Hardback
Collections:Your library, To read
Tags:thriller, Folio Society, fiction, anglophone

Work details

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (1958)

  1. 31
    The Tailor of Panama by John Le Carré (chrisharpe)
    chrisharpe: Le Carré's 1996 novel was inspired by Greene's "Our Man in Havana".
  2. 10
    The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell (terrazoon)
    terrazoon: Good satires are hard to find. Although the subject matter is different, if you like one you will probably like the other.
  3. 10
    Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov (alalba)
    alalba: In both books the main character makes up stories as a way of keeping his job, in both cases, they become reality.
  4. 00
    The Fat Plan by Glen Neath (sanddancer)
  5. 01
    My Life In CIA: A Chronicle of 1973 by Harry Mathews (slickdpdx)
  6. 01
    The secret agent: a simple tale by Joseph Conrad (LamontCranston)

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English (59)  Spanish (3)  Swedish (2)  Portuguese (1)  Danish (1)  Hebrew (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (69)
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
Greene's version of a "light comedy" features a depressed and abject man ("Wormold") who sells vacuum cleaners in Havana and comes to defraud MI6 with extensive false stories about enemy actions on the island gathered through a network of fake agents in order to buy the love of his daughter, who is so deeply wrapped in a protective cloak of Catholicism and materialism since her mother left as to be inhuman and unreachable. Wormold's reports are a little too convincing for some on the other side, and he inadvertently sparks a kind of alternative or cod–Cuban Missile Crisis, leading him to directly or indirectly cause the deaths of the traumatized and emotionally damaged man they send to assassinate him, his world-weary and surely marked-for-annihilation-from-the-beginning German friend and counsellor Hasselbacher, an innocent dude named Raúl, and an innocent dog named Max, and leading Wormold himself to flee the country and turn up back in London in the first flushes of love with his young and resourceful secretary, in a prestigious desk job and on the list for an OBE. His daughter does not marry the Batista chief of police with the wallet made of human skin, but both of them are represented as perhaps "no better than they should be." It's not funny! And when it tries to be it's sort of haw-haw farce stuff or heavy-handed gallows drollery, and it blows. But it's still a really enjoyable book, as Wormold stumbles from mishap to self-induced mishap and yet we stay in his corner, because he seems just "principled and cynical" (maybe the most affecting part of the book, weirdly, was where he remembers being bullied at school and never quite being able to catch up, never being swift enough to bully back and earn his place among the braying boys, and standing there like a post instead and that setting the course for his whole life) and used to loving people who don't particuarly love him back, and willing to defraud the spymasters pursuant to that decency and love. It's a somewhat Bartlebyesque story of the decency that eschews, that refuses to do evil things to its fellow man--and when Wormold is finally spurred into action it is for reasons that reflect how quixotic and flimsy that decency can be too. ( )
7 vote MeditationesMartini | Nov 9, 2015 |
Graham Greene seemed to enjoy setting traps for his characters. I don't suppose that that's too uncommon among thriller writers, but Greene was also a good enough writer to make his characters into real, likable people rather than mere plot-driven puppets. "Our Man in Havana" is, by any measure, a good book, but I found watching poor Jim Wormold get painted into a corner by his own opportunistic untruths to be a distinctly uncomfortable experience. Still, there are other reasons to read this one. Greene seems to be using the flashy, fast-talking Hawthorne to poke fun at the cloak-and-dagger genre, and his portrayal of young MIlly Wormold's Catholicism is wonderfully open to interpretation. The novel's real attraction might be its setting, Cuba on the edge of Castro's revolution. It's hard not to read about Cuba without getting a hint of somebody's nostalgia, but the Havana that Greene describes here seems impossibly far away, separated, as it is, from the contemporary reader by both time and politics. Greene's describes it here as an infinitely corrupt place whose amusements are dimmed by the main character's sadness and attachment to his own past. "Our Man in Havana" has an ending right out of a movie, but it's still recommended to readers who like sad tales from sunny places. ( )
1 vote TheAmpersand | Oct 6, 2015 |
Another one of Greene's reliable "entertainments", as he calls them. This one is inspired by real-life events: Greene's experience in MI6 and in particular the story of a Spanish double agent who invented a ring of agents he ostensibly "controlled" (and presumably collected expenses for). This agent was the subject of an article I came across in a military history magazine just as I was preparing to read the book, which was an interesting coincidence.

Overall, though, I found this one harder to get into than Greene's other entertainments, despite this one's slim size and of course the immense appeal of anything MI6-related. I suspect starting it on the bus was to blame; this is definitely one of those at-home-with-a-cup-of-tea books. Even so, the story of hapless vacuum cleaner salesman Wormold being recruited to spy for England and the reports he devises to keep the funds coming in is a good one. The recruitment scene itself is really funny, as are the reports themselves. Wormold himself also grows as a character as the result of this scheme, becoming somewhat more assured in terms of personality, really coming into his own as a writer of fiction.

This is a book I would say deserves contemplation and reflection. It's already going on my "should probably read again" list -- perhaps with that military history magazine article if I can ever find it again, and perhaps with a viewing of the movie under my belt as well. ( )
1 vote rabbitprincess | Feb 21, 2015 |
When I was rereading this book, I remembered that Greene split his books into three categories. One was comedies, I think, another entertainments and presumably the third was something serious for those like ‘The End of an Affair’. Anyway, what made me think of his classifications was that this novel seems to me to verge on comedy at times so maybe he called it an entertainment. For example, when Beatrice turns up to be Wormold’s secretary, in itself rather farcical since the whole network came from Wormold’s imagination, she buys a safe and having opened it, finds a dead mouse inside. Then follows her saying ‘Shop-soiled: I should have got a reduction’, a rather ludicrous thing to say in what is meant to be the serious business of spying.

Right from the start, though, Greene seems to be taking exactly the opposite tack to the le Carrés of the world. Hawthorne is made absurd in the precautions he takes while ‘the Chief’ makes all kinds of far-fetched assumptions about Wormold making the whole organisation more like something from a ‘Carry on’ film. This jars with the ever-dangerous figure of Captain Segura, the police chief who commits atrocities so as a reader I was left wondering just what sort of a response Greene expected his readers to have.

Of course, as the plot unfolds, we find lots more unlikelihoods including Wormold’s final appraisal of Segura in ‘he wasn’t a bad chap’ and everything winds up, against all the odds, as a happily ever after conculsion. Since this is supposed to be a satire, I guess the reader is expected to take all this with a pinch of salt although we’re no doubt meant to take more seriously Beatrice’s tirade against patriotism. While I find myself agreeing with her, though, I just find the whole tone of the book conflicting. Maybe it’s dated too in that it deals with an Englishness that for the most part no longer exists and as such the satire has lost its relevance. ( )
  evening | Nov 21, 2014 |
A wonderful story of an anti-hero caught up in circumstances. Kind of a serious Walter Mitty. A great read. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 22, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
10 of the Greatest Cold War Spy Novels
“Possibly the greatest writer of prose to devote so much of his time to the theme of espionage, Greene was himself briefly an intelligence agent. His WW 2 experiences in London, dealing with a disinformation-dealing agent in Portugal, provided the impetus for this satirical and prescient look at the spy game. Wormhold, a British vacuum salesman in Havana during the Batista regime, becomes a spy for the MI6 to better provide for his daughter (he’s a single parent). The reports Wormhold concocts involve imaginary agents, whose salaries he collects. But his lively reports begin to greatly interest London, who send in reinforcements, initiating a deadly black comedy of errors, making the hapless agent a Soviet target. In an instance of perfect casting, Alec Guinness portrayed Wormhold in the 1959 film version.”
Toward the end, as we go into a business luncheon at which Wormold is due to die, things begin to warm, and it seems we will get what we came for. But when, for a climax, a dog wanders into the dining room, laps the whisky Wormold spilled, dies, and thus gives warning of poison, things simply fall apart. I never saw a dog drink hard liquor, and don't believe this one did. However, I do believe he could read, and had had a look at the script, to know what he should do. All in all, little as a Greene fan likes to say it, this book misses, and in a thoroughly heartbreaking way, for it misses needlessly where it might have rung the bell.
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, James M. Cain (Jul 12, 2011)
For once, Greene's Roman Catholic hang-ups, which make novels such as The End of the Affair so desolate, are kept in check - even joked about. "Hail Mary, quite contrary", prays convent-educated Milly, aged four. Nine years later she sets fire to a small American boy called Thomas Earl Parkman Junior because he's a Protestant - "and if there was going to be a persecution, Catholics could always beat Protestants at that game."

» Add other authors (39 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Greene, Grahamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hitchens, ChristopherPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lundblad, JaneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oddera, BrunoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schaap, H.W.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Turtiainen, ArvoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vallverdú, JosepTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winiewicz, LidaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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And the sad man is cock of all his jests
First words
'That nigger going down the street,' said Dr Hasselbacher standing in the Wonder Bar, 'he reminds me of you, Mr Wormold.'
The separating years approached them both, like a station down the line, all gain for her and all loss for him.
You should dream more, Mr. Wormold. Reality in our century is not something to be faced.
He was aware whenever he entered the shop of a vacuum that had nothing to do with his cleaners.
In a mad world it always seemed simpler to obey.
As long as nothing happens, anything is possible, you agree? It is a pity that a lottery is ever drawn. I lose a hundred and forty thousand dollars a week, and I am a poor man.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142438006, Paperback)

Graham Greene?s classic Cuban spy story, now with a new package and a new introduction

First published in 1959, Our Man in Havana is an espionage thriller, a penetrating character study, and a political satire that still resonates today. Conceived as one of Graham Greene?s ?entertainments,? it tells of MI6?s man in Havana, Wormold, a former vacuum-cleaner salesman turned reluctant secret agent out of economic necessity. To keep his job, he files bogus reports based on Lamb?s Tales from Shakespeare and dreams up military installations from vacuum-cleaner designs. Then his stories start coming disturbingly true.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:23 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Follows the plight of Wormold, a former vacuum cleaner salesman, who becomes a slave to the expensive whims of his thirteen-year-old daughter, Milly, and takes on a job for MI6 as Secret Agent 5920015 to pay for them.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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