Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Our Man in Havana, Graham Greene

'That n***er going down the street,' said Dr Hasselbacher standing in the Wonder Bar, 'he reminds me of you, Mr Wormold.' It was typical of Dr Hasselbacher that after fifteen years of friendship he still used the prefix Mr- friendship proceeded with the slowness and assurance of a careful diagnosis. On Wormold's death-bed, when Dr Hasselbacher came to feel his failing pulse, he would perhaps become Jim. 

I really love Graham Greene's witty and sardonic writing. He has that talent for being really hilarious at one time, and at the next, super sad. As Christopher Hitchens mentions in his introduction, Greene divided his books into "novels" and "entertainments". I believe Our Man in Havana is an entertainment, and it certainly shows. There's lots of whimsy in this one, and the whole plot is completely ludicrous. Wormold is a vacuum-cleaner salesman in Havana, when he is randomly recruited by Hawthorne, a British secret agent. He is set to report on economic and military goings-on in Cuba, and begins concocting wild reports based on Tales from Shakespeare by Charles Lamb and dreaming up military installations from vacuum designs. Then his stories start becoming true...

This book is complicated. At first glance, it seems like just a funny espionage thriller (seems like an oxymoron, doesn't it?). But the book it's not. I had a lot of favorite quotes, one of which was "Childhood was the germ of all mistrust. You were cruelly joked upon and then you cruelly joked. You lost the remembrance of pain through inflicting it." And I think that's really true. Once you reach the top of the order, so to speak, then you forget what it was like to be at the bottom. And "'There is always time for a Scotch.' It was obvious from the way he pronounced Scotch that Dr Hasselbacher had already had time for a great many..." Being a fancy way of saying that he is rather drunk.

The part that really got me laughing was when..."'You called me, Senor Vormell.' For some reason the name Wormold was quite beyond Lopez' (his servant's) power of pronunciation, but as he seemed unable to settle on a satisfactory substitute, it was seldom that Wormold went by the same name twice." Lopez goes on in the ensuing paragraphs to call Wormold "Vomell", "Ommel", "Vormole", "Venell", and "Vommold." It was hilarious.

Enough quotes (though there are many more, detailed in the excellent introduction ). Our Man in Havana is one of my favorite Graham Greene novels so far, better than The Quiet American and just as good as Travels With My Aunt. I may have to buy it now, it was so good. It's hilarious at times, entertaining, and also thought-provoking. My favorite kind of novel.

Read Our Man in Havana:
  • if you like Graham Greene
  • if you like (witty) British fiction
  • if you like books set in Cuba
  • if you like spy novels
228 pages.

Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

1 comment:

  1. A spy book! I love spies now after reading The Liar Society. I know this isn't the same target reader as that one but it's made me interested in more books with spies.
    I like the first quote. I don't think you forget. You never forget. You just try to by climbing even farther from your past.
    I should read a book set in Cuba already. I am Cuban.