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.