Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Vacuum salesman turned hesitant secret agent, Wormold is MI6’s man in Havana, a man who accepts a covert government mission mainly to support his daughter’s lavish tastes. Using Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, Wormold files bogus reports to London and passes off vacuum cleaner designs as military installations and weapons. When headquarters sends a female agent to assist him, he fears his cover is blown. Soon though, his fabricated stories and make-believe agents take on a life or their own, and the "other side" comes to the conclusion that Wormold is a spy and they attempt to kill him.

Our Man in Havana is an excellent satire, poking fun at the pervasive incompetence of political and military leaders in the reckless games they play. You can’t read the 1959 Graham Greene novel without thinking about the debacle of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. In Our Man’s introduction, Christopher Hitchens comments on Green’s topical writing: "As with his setting of The Quiet American—in Viet Nam just before the critical battle of Dien Bien Phu—or with his decision to locate The Comedians in the midnight of ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier’s Haiti, Greene seemed to have an almost spooky prescience when it came to the suppurating political slums on the periphery of America’s Cold War empire."

Our Man in Havana is an exciting, fun read, still relevant fifty years later. Though it may have taken thirty some years for me to read my first Greene novel (seen the movie The Third Man countless times), it won’t take nearly as long to read my second.

Related Links: Greene Bio | DVD Talk on the 1959 film

Click here for more Friday's Forgotten Books on Pattinase

19 comments:

Scott Parker said...

Graham Greene has been on my list for a long, long time. Figured I'd start with The Quiet American but I might just start here.

Barrie said...

You're bringing back memories. I haven't read that book in years!

bish8 said...

Loved this novel when I read it years ago. Also like your current Chet Baker listening choice.

Barbara Martin said...

It's been at least two dog ages since I read that book. Ah, memories.

Paul Brazill said...

Great choice. It's a fab book and a pretty good film too. As for Mr Greene,I'd go for The Heart Of The Matter and The Comedians next. There was a great documentary years ago about people who went around the world passing themselves off as GG.It was BBC, so it may be easy to track down.

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David Cranmer said...

Scott, It's a damn good book and I see by all the comments that it's not so forgotten.

Barrie, De Nada.

Bish, Baker is underrated and I think I'm going to follow this one up with Chet Baker in Milan.

Barbara, I always knew The Third Man was popular because of the Orson Welle's film but not Our Man. I guess I'm late to the party. It's encouraging to know it's not forgotten.

Paul, I will keep these titles in mind. How's your short story coming?

Mintrukpeace, If you're not spam, well, you're just so darned nice about it! Thanks for stopping by.

pattinase (abbott) said...

One of my fondest memories is hearing his biographer, Norman Sherry, speak in England. Norman Sherry has, in effect, spent his whole life gathering up Greene's. A great writer from Brighton Rock to the Heart of the Matter, to the End of the Affair to his spy books.

RReynolds said...

Now, The Third Man is nothing short of brilliant. I've always wanted to read Our Man in Havana or at least see the movie. Is it on DVD?

Ray said...

In ye olde dayes when I was a kid and the old black white BBC started showing feature films 'The Third Man' was on very regularly - in fact so often that I got bored with it. Even more so when it was turned into a TV series with Michael Rennie as Harry Lime.
Just before Christmas I had dozed off in front of the telly and woke up to that zither theme tune. Immediate reaction was to go for the 'off' button. But I sat and watched it and thoroughly enjoyed it.
I think 'Our Man In Havana' and 'The Comedians' came out around the same time as LeCarre and Len Deighton were starting out.
At least that would have been the time that I started to read Graham Greene seriously along with his 'Brighton Rock' and 'The Power and The Glory' - that last could be classed as a forgotten book in Grene's repetoire. It was filmed with Henry Fonda but the movie title escapes me - just recall that it was a very dark movie. Now I'll have to go and look that up.

Tom Bale said...

Our Man in Havana is a wonderful book. Even as a huge admirer of Greene, I was surprised to find it laugh-out-loud funny at times: an illustration of his extraordinary range as a writer. I happened to read it during the controversy over Iraq's supposed WMD, and the intelligence failings which apparently included fraudulent reports from bogus agents in the field: so as a satire, this story works just as brilliantly now as it did half a century ago.

Paul Brazill said...

Ray- The Fugitive. John Ford directed it, I think?

David Cranmer said...

Patti, I just googled Norman Sherry and he seems to be an interesting guy himself.

RReynolds, A new version of Our Man was just released this past week. Mike Clark in his USA Today review gave it a 2 1/2 rating.

Ray, There's an interesting article in the paper today that concludes while we were wasting our time in the States in the 60s on shows like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, the UK was watching quality like Coleman Hawkins in Europe and The Third Man. As for my Forgotten Book, I wish I had picked something like The Power and The Glory because obviously (and thankfully) Our Man is not quite forgotten.

Tom, As I read Our Man, I thought about every failed policy throughout history. Sadly, it's still topical. And you are right that it’s a laugh out loud novel.

Anonymous said...

Our Man in Havana is a good movie. Not as good as The Third Man but in some ways more interesting for the location filming in Cuba at the time. I have not read the book but after reading your review I will check it out.

-Don Ward

ARCHAVIST said...

I feel inferior having never read the book. Seen the film, though. Whoops sorry.

David Cranmer said...

Don, I will check this movie out. I like the fact it was filmed during the revolution and I'm a fan of Alec G.

Archavist, For Shame!

SteveHL said...

In addition to the John Ford film of The Power and the Glory there have been at least two versions on television. The one I haven't seen has as impressive a cast as you could find - Laurence Olivier, George C. Scott, Julie Harris, Patty Duke, Roddy MacDowall, Keenan Wynn, Mildred Dunnock, Cyril Cusak, and Thomas Gomez.

D.A. Riser said...

I'm so behind the times. Alas, another book to add to the reading list!

David Cranmer said...

SteveHL, Thanks for the tip. That is an impressive cast. I'm going to check out the Carol Reed Our Man film first and then probably the Ford film.

D.A., I've joked about my TBR list and my shopping cart at Amazon is ridiculous. Just not enough time to read them all.