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Our Man in Havana (Penguin Classics) Paperback – July 31, 2007


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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (July 31, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142438006
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142438008
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (129 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,911 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Actor Jeremy Northam (Gosford Park, Tristram Shandy) has himself a ball with Greene's comic suspense novel, its Cuban setting and panoply of international characters. He downplays the religious and political undertones of the book in favor of Greene's comedy of a vacuum-cleaner salesman turned secret agent. Greene's array of Germans, Brits and native Cubans allows Northam to trot out some of the choicest examples from his stable of voices, all cleverly done. The brief bits of salsa music that punctuate the breaks between chapters underscore Northam's jaunty reading. This is one classic novel meant to be enjoyed for entertainment, not self-improvement. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

Review

The ultimate chronicler of twentieth-century manÆs consciousness and anxiety. (William Golding)

As comical, satirical, atmospherical an ÆentertainmentÆ as he has given us. (The Daily Telegraph, London)


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

121 of 124 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
This 1958 novel was a complete surprise to me. I'd read three books by this author before and found them dark and introspective. But "Our Man in Havana" is a satirical spoof and I found myself giggling throughout. It deals with a theme that Greene has revisited on many occasions - that of a spy in a foreign country. But this time, it's all in fun, although between the 220 pages of this slim volume, he manages to say a few important things about social class, the Catholic Church, and the absurdity of international relations.
The hero of the story is Jim Wormold, a divorced vacuum cleaner salesman from England in pre-Castro Cuba. His 17-year-old daughter is growing up fast and he finds he needs money. So when the British Secret Service recruits him, he invents a whole world of secret agents and intrigues just to keep the money flowing. He is even sent a secretary, which introduces a bit of romance to the outrageous plot. All of a sudden, the lies he has invented seem to be coming true and the plot thickens, moving along at a breakneck pace. I was totally involved, and found myself laughing out loud at times. What a delightful read! Highly recommended.
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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Andrew McCaffrey VINE VOICE on March 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
I went into OUR MAN IN HAVANA with very few expectations. I was under the vague impression that it was a thriller of sorts and I somehow knew that there had a been a film made out of it a number of decades back. So I was a bit surprised when I started reading the book and found out that it was a comedy. Surprised and delighted, because OUR MAN turned out to be one of the more understated and enjoyable satires that I've read in a good long time.
The book is a smart send up of a lot of the standard material one would have found in the noir films and books of the time (the novel was published in 1958, when the genre was starting to wear itself out). A British secret agent, looking to increase his community of contacts, has arranged for an ordinary vacuum cleaner salesman to file reports of any unusual activity in the area. The merchant, Mr. Wormold, reluctantly agrees to this arrangement for no reason other than the lure of extra money; he has a teenage daughter with very expensive tastes (to whit: men and horses). To keep himself employable, Wormold constructs a whole world of intrigue to write home about. The back-cover hints at one of the book's funnier gags, but all of Wormold's fictions (and especially the reaction they receive at the other end) are hilarious.
Despite the comic portions of the plot, the characters themselves are allowed to retain a certain dignity. The prose is also as lush as one would expect from a Graham Greene novel. One particular scene stood out as a wonderful piece of writing. Placing two main characters inside a dark, dingy saloon, Greene describes the other inhabitants as looking like paratroopers about to parachute out of an airplane. Their quick glances at the door and their hushed demeanor are all exquisitely described.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
More successful than most of Greene's "entertainments," this comic spy tale set in pre-Castro Cuba concerns an insignificant little man-a vacuum cleaner salesman to be precise-who, against his better judgment, becomes MI6's "man in Havana." A longtime Havana resident, Englishman Jim Wormold is divorced, but the custodian of his beautiful, Catholic teenage daughter, Millie. One day he is approached by Hawthorne-a hilariously daft MI6 agent, whose speech is littered with upper crust slang-who shanghais him into becoming a spy. Although he is resistant to the whole notion, his best friend (a German named Hasselbacher), suggests he simply manufacture his sources and intelligence and take the ample money. Millie's expensive tastes and his own devotion to her result in his succumbing to this temptation, and he spends a few happy weeks inventing subagents and fake intelligence. For the first time in years he's doing something interesting, and no longer has money worries-in the funniest bit, he submits drawings of vacuum cleaner parts as sketches of a new Cuban weapons installation.
Of course, this being Greene, complications arise. He is sent reinforcements from the London office, and must scramble to keep them in the dark as to his deception. At the same time, his inventions seem to be taking on a life of their own as people start dying around him, and somebody seems to think he's a real spy. Integral to all this is the ever-present Captain Seguras, a policeman of some renown as a sadist who seeks Millie's hand in marriage. Although a deep melancholy and tragedy lurks in the background, and there's a rather lame love injected, it remains a delightfully absurd tale, one of Greene's better efforts.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By W. Weinstein on September 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
In this novel, set in Cuba in the days before Castro, Mr Greene is at his most ironic. He tells the tale of Jim Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman who lives quietly in Havana and worries about his devoutly Catholic teenage daughter whom he is raising as a single parent. He is unexpectedly recruited, in a public toilet, by the British Secret Service to "keep an eye on things" in Cuba. When no obvious "things" present themselves, Wormold decides to invent agents and situations to pad his reports. But then things start to go wrong and reality begins to mirror fiction.
Graham Greene captures the sleepy, sensual heat of the Caribbean perfectly. His characters are extraordinarily vividly painted and the book lurches wildly from comedy to tragedy to farce, damning the bureaucrats, the police and the sinister, grey men of the secret services along the way. With The Comedians and Brighton Rock this must surely rank as one of Mr Greene's best entertainments.
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