Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene Download (read online) free eBook (PDF ePub Kindle)

Our Man in Havana

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 r


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    Jean

    Jul 24, 2013

    rated it
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     · 
    review of another edition

    Recommended to Jean by:
    Leslie

    Graham Greene is one of the most highly regarded British authors of the 20th century. The American novelist John Irving has paid tribute to him, calling him,

    “the most accomplished living novelist in the English language.”

    Very popular as a thriller-writer, writing “entertainments”, as he called them, Graham Greene also wrote deeply serious Catholic novels, which received much literary acclaim, although he never actually won the Nobel prize for Literature. In these he examined contemporary moral a

    “the most accomplished living novelist in the English language.”

    Very popular as a thriller-writer, writing “entertainments”, as he called them, Graham Greene also wrote deeply serious Catholic novels, which received much literary acclaim, although he never actually won the Nobel prize for Literature. In these he examined contemporary moral and political issues through a Catholic perspective. Many of them are powerful Christian portrayals, concerning the struggles within the individual’s soul. He argued vehemently against being characterised as a “Catholic novelist” however, saying that he was a novelist who happened to be a Catholic. Graham Greene had been an unhappy child, attempting suicide several times according to his autobiography, and as an adult he suffered from bi-polar disorder. Of this, he said,

    “Unfortunately, the disease is also one’s material.”

    Our Man in Havana though is a product of the other side of Greene’s imagination. It is a humorous suspense novel; a spoof spy story, incorporating two of his favourite themes – espionage and politics. Greene had actually been recruited by MI6 during World War II, and had worked in counter-espionage. Earlier, in 1922, he had been a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. His experience from such times provided much of the inspiration for the characters in Our Man in Havana. In it he pokes fun at the intelligence services, especially the British MI6. Yet the novel also has a darkly philosophic edge, and its conclusion is very bleak.

    Our Man in Havana was written in 1958, and set in Cuba before the missile crisis of 1962. In some ways the book feels very reminiscent of spy stories dating from World War II, and in others, such as the parts of the plot about missile installations, it seems to anticipate coming events.

    The tone of the novel is light and droll, occasionally lapsing into outright farce. There is little description; the language is simple and direct to the point of being spare. Graham Greene’s realism and lean writing – his readability – is considered to be one of his greatest strengths. One critic has said,

    “nothing deflects Greene from the main business of holding the reader’s attention.”

    The main character in the story is James Wormold, a mild-mannered vacuum salesman who seems oddly isolated in Cuba. He is surrounded by other characters described in high relief, his manipulative Catholic daughter Millie, a political gangster Segura, and his closest friend who is also an isolated enigma, the World War I veteran, Dr. Hasselbache. When the bumbling Wormold, desperate for money to indulge his spendthrift daughter, is approached by Hawthorne, he is at first disbelieving. (view spoiler)

    “It astonished Wormold how quickly he could reply to any questions about his characters; they seemed to live on the threshold of consciousness – he had only to turn a light on and there they were, frozen in some characteristic action.”

    As the events unfold, Wormold’s descriptions become increasingly elaborate and, to a reader’s eye, the scenarios unlikely and farcical, with Wormold himself ruminating on the way his life is proceeding.

    “People similar to himself had done this, men who allowed themselves to be recruited while sitting in lavatories, who opened hotel doors with other men’s keys and received instructions in secret ink and in novel uses for Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. There was always another side to a joke, the side of the victim.”

    (view spoiler)

    “He had no accomplice except the credulity of other men.”

    Yet in the middle of his humdrum life, real people were becoming the victims, people he knew, people who had been his friends. Life for Wormold was beginning to take on a surreal aspect,

    “Somebody always leaves a banana-skin on the scene of tragedy.”

    Wormold becomes entangled in a web of his own making, inadvertent as it is. The abstract idea has become the individual – his individual – responsibility.

    “I don’t care a damn about men who are loyal to the people who pay them, to organisations … I don’t think even my country means all that much. There are many countries in our blood, aren’t there, but only one person. Would the world be in the mess it is if we were loyal to love and not to countries?”

    At times like this we can see Greene’s underlying message,

    “If I love or if I hate, let me love or hate as an individual,” says Wormold, and the author himself has said,

    “In human relationships, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.”

    The book is a bitter black farce, with an ending as much of a “banana-skin” as any I have ever read, with Wormold partly a puppet, partly a numb automaton, and partly ridiculously incompetent. Depending on your sense of humour, you may find the climax hysterically funny.

    “There’s not much difference between the two machines any more than there is between two human beings, one Russian – or German – and one British. There would be no competition and no war if it wasn’t for the ambition of a few men in both firms; just a few men dictate competition and invent needs and set Mr Carter and myself at each other’s throats.”

    Our Man In Havana was famously filmed by Carol Reed, with Alec Guinness playing the part of Wormold. Many of Graham Greene’s novels, plays and short stories have been adapted for film or television. He is perhaps one of the most cinematic of twentieth-century writers; he tells a good yarn, an exciting adventure story. However this one perhaps had more resonance at the time. The themes of an individual against an organised society, of conscience and responsibility; these are timeless, yes. But it could be said that the specific setting now feels rather dated.
    …more

    Bill  Kerwin


    This is one of Graham Greene’s thrillers which he labeled as “entertainments” as a warning to his audience not to take these books seriously. Our Man in Havana definitely needs such a warning. There is no reason to take the book seriously at all.

    The plot is promising. Havana vacuum cleaner Wormold, owner of an Havana vacuum cleaner shop, hard-pressed to satisfy the expensive tastes (horses, country club) of his beautiful, manipulative (and motherless) teenage daughter, decides—when recruited by

    The plot is promising. Havana vacuum cleaner Wormold, owner of an Havana vacuum cleaner shop, hard-pressed to satisfy the expensive tastes (horses, country club) of his beautiful, manipulative (and motherless) teenage daughter, decides—when recruited by MI6—to pad his espionage expense account by inventing agents and mysterious government installations. This works well for him, until the real-life model for one of his imaginary agents is found shot to death. Suddenly, his serviceable fictions have become unfortunately real.

    The book has other pleasures or virtues in addition to its clever plot.. The Havana atmosphere is vivid, particularly the tawdry parts of the city, the dialogue is witty and diverting, and the climax—in which our hero stalks a killer who has been assigned to kill him—is not without excitement. Many of the scenes are funny, and the way Greene presents his hero as simply another variety of fiction provides opportunity for revealing observations and asides.

    But an entertainment, however unserious, demands some sense of danger, and whatever dangerousness the first part of the book created for me, the latter part of the book dissipated. Although this is a curious thing to say, I believe the sense of danger began to dissipate as soon as the bodies began to fall.

    Part of the reason for this is that Our Man in Havana is set in the sunset days of Batita’s Cuba. Castro and his rebels were already in the hills (although Greene does not mention this), and one of the characters, Captain Segura, who is known to be one of Batista’s torturers, seeks Wormold’s daughter Milly in marriage. Thus Wormold playing at spies—particularly in this place, at this time—seems like an extraordinarily dangerous thing to do, both for himself and for his daughter. Yet not long after the first “agent” is killed, Greene begins to exploit the situation for romance, laughs, and adventure. It was then I realized that Greene took his plot much less seriously than I did, and I began—little by little—to lose interest in the book.

    Still, the book was entertaining, with some laughs, some thrills, and an interesting discussion of what are good reasons for engaging in violence (hint: working for Batista or for MI6 are not acceptable choices). All, in all, a good way to spend a couple of hours or so–provided you are willing (at least for brief while) not to take dictatorships, torture, revolution, and murder too seriously.
    …more

    Supratim

    Dec 10, 2016

    rated it
    really liked it

     · 
    review of another edition

    I had come across two lists mentioning the top 100 mystery/crime novels some time back. Both the lists – one by Britain-based Crime Writers’ Association and the other by Mystery Writers of America, contained multiple books by Graham Greene. You can find both the lists here Link. The CWA list was published in 1990 and the MWA list in 1995. Pretty long time back but the books included are very fine specimens of crime writing.

    I had read Greene’s The Human Factor long time back and for some reason t

    I had read Greene’s The Human Factor long time back and for some reason that book did not impress me much. But this one was simply brilliant!

    The edition I got from my library contained an introduction by Christopher Hitchens. Reading this introduction I got some insights about the author and how his childhood and beliefs influenced his works. Hitchens also says that John Le Carre had been influenced by Greene.

    Greene had a victim of bullying in his childhood and this exerted no little influence on his works. His pro-Communist sympathies, dependence on alcohol, his rejection of the notion of patriotism, anti-American sentiments all are present in his books.

    Hitchens also mentioned Greene’s “….. spooky prescience when it came to the suppurating political slums on the periphery of America’s Cold War empire.” I would suggest that you check out this book and The Quiet American if you want to understand more.

    Anyways, let us go to the story. The protagonist is Jim Wormold, a vacuum-cleaner saleman whose business is not doing well and whose daughter Milly had a knack of spending his money with a skill that “amazed” Wormold. Our hero is not a forceful character, it seemed to me that he, like the author, had been a victim of bullying- he is gratified when his daughter set a bully on fire and oh yes – his wife has left him for another man as well.

    Wormold gets an offer to be recruited by a British agent to spy for the British Intelligence and after some initial reluctance he agrees because he needed the money for Milly’s education. So he invents a false spy ring and starts feeding rubbish to British Secret Service.

    There are some other interesting characters as well. Wormold’s daughter Milly, Captain Segura and Dr. Hasselbacher.

    Milly is a good/bad adolescent girl who is a staunch Catholic on one hand and can be a bit of a “tart” on the other.

    Captain Segura of the Cuban Police is a pretty intimidating character.

    Dr. Hasselbacher is the person for whom one would feel sympathy.

    Greene’s contempt for the British spy agency has been brilliantly presented throughout the novel – some parts are actually funny if not hilarious.

    Very soon the little fraud by Wormold escalates in to something dangerous and people start dying. Betrayal, deception, subterfuge, greed, confusion, manipulation – the elements have so nicely used by the author. There is a scene -involving a certain man and his “lady” problems which was actually hilarious.

    I liked the way how the character of Wormwold evolved – from a harmless man to one who would use subterfuge to outwit Segura and even plan for revenge. This reluctance to know intimate details about the man he is trying to kill so that his intended victim – a killer himself, does not turn into a human being showed his moral scruples even when he was trying to avenge a friend. The scene where Wormwold would try to outwit Segura was wonderful.

    The book is full of brilliant dialogues and statements. Initially I thought of including some of them, but later I felt I should not spoil your pleasure if you plan to read it someday. In my humble opinion, the writing is excellent.

    I simply have to recommend this book to fans of John Le Carre’s style of thrillers. There are no fancy gadgets, car chases, femme fatales but you get a good story and some fine writing.

    While reading the blurb of the book I was reminded of The Tailor of Panama by John Le Carre. Later I found articles which stated that Le Carre was indeed influenced by this book. You can refer to the articles by NY Times (Link) and The Guardian (Link) if you are interested.
    …more

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