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Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Our Man in Havana (original 1958; edition 1997)

by Graham Greene

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,540811,494 (3.87)231
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. 20
    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.
  3. 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.
  4. 00
    The Fat Plan by Glen Neath (sanddancer)
  5. 01
    The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (LamontCranston)
  6. 01
    My Life In CIA: A Chronicle of 1973 by Harry Mathews (slickdpdx)

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» See also 231 mentions

English (71)  Spanish (3)  Swedish (2)  Portuguese (1)  Danish (1)  Hebrew (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (81)
Showing 1-5 of 71 (next | show all)
I'm not familiar with satire or spy novels, but I still got a lot of enjoyment out of this. ( )
  JennysBookBag.com | Sep 28, 2016 |
Nice start. Typical Greene characters: expat vacuum cleaner salesman plodding thru Cuban life, one hyperCatholic countryclubing teen daughter, and one German drinking friend. Then the caricatures start: the Brit secret agent, the head of intelligence without any, the MI6 Miss Moneypennyesque bureaucrat, and most sketchily drawn, the evil Cuban torture chief.

Now, a bit of a spoiler:

Torture for the reader begins when the new woman from the agency arrives (knows French--close enough for Intelligence work). A Brit comedy of bad manners ensues starting with the soda water episode and the torturer. We know the book will end badly at that point.

Codes get more complicated, agents die, and the atomic vacuum cleaner blasts off. Our expat is almost poisoned but, as must in a comedy, all ends well with salary, marriage, England, and finishing school for the daughter.
Probably sounds funnier than it is. BTW, best scene is MI6 reviewing the vacuum cleaner plans sent by secret diplomatic pouch early in the book.
( )
  kerns222 | Aug 24, 2016 |
Review posted on:


Warning - contains some spoilers. ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
For the category 'A book that takes place on an island', I chose Our Man in Havana.
Synopsis: Mr Wormold lives in Havana and sells vacuum cleaners. Although he can support himself and his daughter, she wants things that cost more money than he makes. He is recruited by a British agent to work as a spy and recruit more agents, along with supplying information regarding anything that might let the British know if war is brewing in that part of the world. Wormold's oldest friend, Dr. Hasselbacher tells him to take the money offered and make up the reports. Wormold takes this advice and disaster follows because London believes what he has sent them.
Review: This was a well-written book with interesting characters. It makes me wonder just how much of what is reported by spies is actually true or only rumor. ( )
  DrLed | Jun 12, 2016 |
There was always another side to a joke, the side of the victim." (pg. 74)

A Dr. Strangelove-esque spy spoof in which a hapless vacuum-cleaner salesman living in Cuba is recruited by British intelligence and decides to invent agents and stories for his reports. However, people on both sides of the Cold War divide begin taking him seriously, and then people start turning up dead…

Our Man in Havana is Greene's somewhat cynical roasting of the intelligence profession. He exposes the inherent absurdity of some of its aspects, or rather the aspects which are emphasised and exaggerated in spy fiction. Witness, for example, the scene on page 24 when the over-cautious spymaster Hawthorne is trying to recruit our baffled salesman, Wormold:

"Again the explanation that seemed most probable to Wormold was that the stranger was an eccentric inspector from [the vacuum-cleaner company] headquarters, but surely he had reached the limits of eccentricity when he added in a low voice, "You go to the Gents and I'll follow you."
"The Gents? Why should I?"
"Because I don't know the way."
In a mad world it always seems simpler to obey. Wormold led the stranger through a door at the back, down a short passage, and indicated the toilet. "It's in there."
"After you, old man."
"But I don't need it."
"Don't be difficult," the stranger said."

Greene clearly finds the whole system rather silly, and this is the essence of the quote with which I started this review. It's alright to have a joke (whether that's Wormold playing at spies, or the whole lot of them) but people can get hurt. Agents die, countries war, and for what? In Greene's view, people are taking risks "for a Boy's Own Paper game." (pg. 113). He suggests that the East and the West are both as bad as each other, that problems result because of a few ambitious men at the top (pg. 181), and that people should be loyal to love and not to countries (pg. 195).

For the record, I don't agree with Greene's rather half-baked views, and in Our Man in Havana we see the same side of the man who later wrote a naïve defence of defector Kim Philby. (Something I consciously try and ignore when thinking of Greene, who is becoming one of my favourite writers, for Philby was a seriously nasty piece of work.) But if you can ignore this sort of thing – and, in truth, it does seem rather quaint to read about these early-Cold War issues from a 2015 viewpoint – then you'll be entertained by a quick, funny and well-crafted spoof-thriller. Don't feel like you have to admire a writer's political views or personal life in order to admire his writing. Just enjoy the book. After all, it's alright to have a joke but people can get hurt if it is taken too seriously." ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 71 (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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