Our Man in Havana – Graham Greene

Graham Greene is an author that I have meant to read much, much more of (there are loads of authors like that aren’t there, well there are for me) ever since I read ‘The End of the Affair’ back before I blogged in 2007 and was really, really bowled over by it. I fancied something funny and for some reason when I have heard about ‘Our Man in Havana’ I have always heard it’s a comedy. Now I wouldn’t personally have called it that myself, though I would say it’s an entertaining spy caper and one that was something very different for me to read which made a nice change.

I found it very interesting reading, on my rather old battered copy of this book, that Graham Greene himself rated ‘Our Man in Havana’ as not a novel but as an entertainment. Having now read it I can see what he means I think. A novel is a novel but this isn’t the kind of book that you might expect from Graham Green because its not exactly literary even thought it’s actually very well written. In fact you would almost think that ‘Our Man in Havana’ was a pastiche of a James Bond novel whilst also being a comedy of errors in some ways. Hmmm, hard one to describe, maybe a little sharing of the story will help.

‘Our Man in Havana’ is of course set in Cuba under the regime of Batista and our protagonist Wormold, who’s wife has left him alone with his daughter who is rather high maintenance in more ways than one, is selling vacuum cleaners for a living with the odd drink or five 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 and who decides that Wormold is the perfect man for the job. However Wormold isn’t the perfect man or agent for the job, though he thinks the money is brilliant and to keep it coming starts making up agents, their storylines and tales of espionage in the depths of Cuba. Things start to get a little more complicated for Wormold, and all the more entertaining for the reader, as the things he makes up start to actually happen.

I did enjoy this book as a read, it didn’t blow me away liked I hoped it would. I liked the idea of your average man becoming a hopeless spy, yet really all we had was Wormold telling lies and creating mild deceptions for his own gains which kind of put me off him. I know that shouldn’t matter but it did a bit. In fact it was really his daughter Milly and British Intelligence secretary Beatrice that sort of saved the book in many ways, apart from a very funny moment involving vacuum parts which tickled me. I don’t know who told me it was a comedy because though in parts it’s farcical it didn’t ever really make me laugh out loud, well actually maybe on occasion in the scenes with Wormold’s daughter Milly in them.

I did find it interesting learning afterwards that Greene had actually been part of MI6 in the 1940’s and also that he seemed to pre-empt the Cuban Missile crisis in some ways, well more the trouble in Cuba than anything specific though. 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’. I think maybe this should be the first of your Greene reads or maybe one when you have read a few more of his others. I could be alone in this though as I know a lot of people think this is an utterly brilliant book. I think its good, I just wonder if I should have read it now, maybe it was all about the timing and its place in my reading relationship with Greene, maybe its one to go back to? I am not sure what I will read of Greene’s next. I will have to see what people recommend.

I bought myself this lovely old 3’6 orange Penguin edition from a charity shop a few years ago, before the 2010 book buying ban, for 50p I think.


Filed under Graham Greene, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

24 responses to “Our Man in Havana – Graham Greene

  1. gaskella

    I would divert back to a bit earlier in his career and read ‘Brighton Rock’ next which has one of the best villains in literature.

    • I think thats the direction I will head next, maybe not Brighton Rock exactly as I dont think its a novel of his that I actually have, but back to something more literary as The End of the Affair did blow me away.

  2. I loved both ‘The Quiet American’ and ‘Travels with My Aunt’. I also see that he published several collections of short stories and I’m thinking that with his writing style his short stories would be terrific.

    • I cant imagine what his short stories would be like, but I think I would like to try them. I have The Quiet American so maybe that could be the next read in my journeys with Greene.

  3. I read The End of the Affair three or so years ago and remember thinking it was very, very good. But I’ve not read anything else by him. Maybe I’ll take Gaskella’s advice and read Brighton Rock, which has been languishing in the TBR for about 8 years!

  4. Did the schedule for the Classics Book Group get changed? I thought today was the day to discuss Crime and Punishment.

    • Oh Julie, I am so sorry. I popped a post up recently saying I was rescheduling it, well stopping it, for now because deadline reading was doing my head in. I am going to be reading Crime and Punishment over the next few months though promise.

  5. Ed

    I have read a number of Greene’s books and I agree with your assessment of ‘Our Man in Havana’. It is enjoyable but certainly not his best. I would recommend ‘The Quiet American’ or ‘The Power and the Glory’ to see him at his best.

  6. I love this book so funny shame greene didn’t write mor slightly comic books ,all the best stu

  7. novelinsights

    I enjoyed but didn’t love this book, probably for similar reasons as you. I do have a copy of Brighton Rock that I would like to read though…

  8. Sophie

    I’ve read a lot of Graham Greene and The End of the Affair was my favourite for a very long time. But last year I read The Heart of the Matter, which is absolutely tremendous! While not an example of his best, I do think Our Man in Havana is great fun.

    Oh and Simon, I have to thank you. On your recommendation, I picked up a copy of Peyton Place and it was the only thing that got me through a very long and emotionally-trying train journey all the way to Dundee and back.

    • Oooh I have The Heart of the Matter, maybe I should leave that until last though?

      Oh Sophie I am always pleased to hear when people have loved a book I recommended, sorry it was an emotional journey though. Peyton Place is amazing.

  9. I keep meaning to read something by Greene (there are way too many authors like this for me!) but have yet to do so. This one sounds interesting… but I’m not sure I’d make it my first read of his works!

  10. I’m reading The Comedians right now and it’s not blowing me away like tohers have done, but it is reminding me how ahem sexah Greene’s writerly voice is. The man is describing attrocities and I am all in a tizz because of his word rhythm 😉 I recommend Brighton Rock too and it’s almost certainly my joint favourite Greene along with The End of the Affair. But The Quiet American is VERY good too. Just read lots of Greene, it’s all good.

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