Review: Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene


Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

In contribution to Rich Westwood’s #1958 book challenge

Penguin Books, 1991. Format Paperback. First published in 1958. ISBN: 0-14-018493-7. Pages 220.

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The protagonist of our story is an Englishman named Jim Wormold that lives in Cuba and earns a living selling vacuum cleaners. He has a daughter, Milly, that will soon turn seventeen. His wife Mary, left them when Milly was about seven. Milly is the apple of his eyes. Wormold would like to give her every whim, no matter how expensive it may be, but this is not always possible, given his financial situation. One day he has a chance encounter with a fellow countryman in a cocktail-bar. The stranger asks him to go to the gents; he will follow him soon. Once there, and with great secrecy, the stranger proposes Wormold to become a member of the secret service of his country by appealing to his patriotism. Wormold cannot imagine how he can be of any use, but finally he accepts. The salary is $150 a month, with another hundred and fifty as expenses, free of income-tax. It won’t take Wormold long to find out how to increase his income, by writing false reports and recruiting false agents that only exist in his imagination. In London, his reports are taken seriously. His bosses are very enthusiastic with their new agent and decide to send him more help, a female secretary and a radio operator. But just when Wormold begins to worry that his lies will be discovered, all his inventions start to come true. 

Peter Hulme in an article entitled Graham Greene and Cuba: Our Man in Havana? available here, wrote: Graham Greene’s novel Our Man in Havana was published on October 6, 1958. Seven days later Greene arrived in Havana with Carol Reed to arrange for the filming of the script of the novel, on which they had both been working. Meanwhile, after his defeat of the summer offensive mounted by the Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, in the mountains of eastern Cuba, just south of Bayamo, Fidel Castro had recently taken the military initiative: the day after Greene and Reed’s arrival on the island, Che Guevara reached Las Villas, moving westwards towards Havana. Six weeks later, on January 1, 1959, after Batista had fled the island, Castro and his Cuban Revolution took power. In April 1959 Greene and Reed were back in Havana with a film crew to film Our Man in Havana. The film was released in January 1960. A note at the beginning of the film says that it is “set before the recent revolution.”

There was a time when Graham Greene was one of my favourite writers. I recall I’ve read most of his books, but I’m not sure to have read Our Man in Havana. The argument is familiar, maybe because I’ve seen the film directed by Carol Reed based on this novel. Anyway I thought that Rich’s 1958 book challenge offers an excellent opportunity to read or reread this book, as the case maybe. I really think this novel is highly representative of the year in question.   

Our Man in Havana has by subtitle An entertainment. Perhaps Greene himself wanted to distinguish it from the rest his works of a greater literary quality. It’s certainly a highly entertaining book, very readable. A delightful read thanks to Greene’s excellent prose. Despite its many favourable reviews, I don’t consider it among Greene’s very best. The argument has reminded me very much of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, far superior in my view. The plot has several elements that  remain unclear and the story is somewhat naïf for present day standards. In any case it does reflect the grade of paranoia reached during the cold war.

My rating: B (I really liked it)

Our Man in Havana has been reviewed at Seeing the world through books

Vintage Classics

Penguin US

Nuestro hombre en la Habana de Graham Greene

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El protagonista de nuestra historia es un inglés llamado Jim Wormold que vive en Cuba y se gana la vida vendiendo aspiradoras. Tiene una hija, Milly, que pronto cumplirá los diecisiete años. Su mujer Mary, los abandonó cuando Milly tenía unos siete años. Milly es la niña de sus ojos. Wormold querría darle todos sus caprichos, no importa lo caros que puedan ser, pero eso no siempre es posible, debido a su situación financiera. Un día tiene un encuentro casual con un compatriota en un cóctel-bar. El desconocido le pide que vaya al sevicio de caballeros, él le seguirá en seguida. Una vez allí, y con gran secreto, el extraño le propone a Wormold convertirse en miembro de los servicios secretos de su país, apelando a su patriotismo. Wormold no puede imaginar en qué puede ser de utilidad, pero finalmente acepta. El salario es de $150 al mes, con otros ciento cincuenta para gastos, libres de impuestos. Wormold no tardará mucho en descubrir cómo aumentar sus ingresos mediante la redacción de informes falsos y la contratación de agentes inventados que sólo existen en su imaginación. En Londres, sus informes son tomados en serio. Sus jefes están muy entusiasmados con su nuevo agente y deciden mandarle más ayuda, una secretaria y un operador de radio. Pero justo cuando Wormold comienza a preocuparse de que se puedan descubrir sus mentiras, todos sus inventos empezarán a hacerse realidad.

Peter Hulme en un artículo titulado Graham Greene y Cuba: Nuestro hombre en La Habana? disponible aquí, escribió: la novela de Graham Greene Nuestro hombre en La Habana fue publicada el 6 de octubre de 1958, siete días después Greene llegó a La Habana con Carol Reed para organizar el rodaje de la secuencia de comandos de la novela, en la que ambos habían estado trabajando. Mientras tanto, después de su derrota en la ofensiva de verano montada por el dictador cubano, Fulgencio Batista, en las montañas del este de Cuba, al sur de Bayamo, Fidel Castro había tomado recientemente la iniciativa militar: el día después de la llegada de Greene y Reed a la isla, el Che Guevara llegó a Las Villas, moviéndose hacia el oeste hacia La Habana. Seis semanas más tarde, el 1 de enero de 1959, después de que Batista hubiera huido de la isla, Castro y su revolución cubana tomaron el poder. En abril de 1959 Greene y Reed estaban de vuelta en La Habana con un equipo de rodaje para rodar Nuestro hombre en La Habana. La película fue estrenada en enero de 1960 una nota al principio de la película dice que “tiene lugar antes de la reciente revolución.”

Hubo un momento en que Graham Greene era uno de mis escritores favoritos. Recuerdo que he leído la mayoría de sus libros, pero no estoy seguro de haber leído Nuestro hombre en La Habana. El argumento me es familiar, tal vez porque he visto la película dirigida por Carol Reed basada en esta novela. De todos modos pensé qu el desafío de libros 1958 de Rich ofrecia una excelente oportunidad, para leer o releer este libro según sea el caso. Realmente creo que esta novela es muy representativa del año en cuestión.

Nuestro hombre en La Habana tiene por subtítulo Un entretenimiento. Tal vez el propio Greene quiso distinguirlo del resto de sus obras de mayor calidad literaria. Es sin duda un libro muy entretenido, de fácil lectura. Una lectura muy agradable gracias a la excelente prosa de Greene. A pesar de sus muchos comentarios favorables, yo no lo considero entre los mejores de Greene. El argumento me ha recordado mucho a Scoop de Evelyn Waugh, muy superior en mi opinión. La trama tiene varios elementos que no están claros y la historia es un tanto naïf para los estándares actuales. En cualquier caso, refleja bien el grado de paranoia alcanzado durante la guerra fría.

Mi calificación: B (Me gustó)

Alianza editorial

12 thoughts on “Review: Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

  1. A good review, and thanks for the reminder that I should try to reread this soon! (And rewatch the movie, come to that.)

    subtitle An entertainment. Perhaps Greene himself wanted to distinguish it from the rest his works of a greater literary quality.

    Greene labeled many of his novels “an entertainment” to distinguish his thrillers from his supposedly more serious work. It was a rather pointless distinction, because there’s not really much difference between the two strands of his writing.

    • Thanks for your comment John. I thought Greene used the distintion to separate his more light and comic books from those he consider more serious in tone. I agree it has nothing to do with the quality of his writting.

  2. I’ve read a few Graham Greene novels and watched more than a few Graham Greene movies, but I’ve managed not to read or watch this one: I’ll put it on my list. The Quiet American is my favorite.

  3. I read this many years ago and liked it a lot; your review brings back happy memories of that time. I’m glad to see you enjoyed The End of the Affair as it’s in my tbr pile, and I haven’t read anything by Greene for quite a while.

    • Glad you enjoyed this one Jacqui! The End of the Affair was probably one of the first books I read by Greene. My copy is a Wlliam Heinemann Edition dated 1955.

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