CR: Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene


I’ve been in a reading rut of late, and really struggled to find something that would get me out of it. I tried The Scarlet Letter (too wordy after an evening of essay writing), Porterhouse Blue (absolutely hilarious, but not the thing to be reading the night before an English assessment. I literally absorbed Sharpe’s writing style and spat it back onto the page. Not good if you’re writing crappy political satire.), Look Who’s Back (I was reminded too much of my history lessons), and finally decided on this. A story about an unlikely spy who decides to go ahead and fake his reports to his superiors, I was drawn in by Greene’s portrayal of his characters and ultimately, the setting – Havana.

I have a particular penchant for satire, and Our Man in Havana ticks all the boxes. Not necessarily a laugh-out-loud novel, Greene’s subtle digs and jabs at certain aspects of life do raise a smile once you step back and analyse the situation. Despite the fact that I’m only on page 71, I’m in love with Greene’s writing and this particular approach to espionage. The media often portrays the spy life as glamourous, evading omnipotent villains and their small Asian henchmen, all the while enjoying the affection of a beautiful woman with a dodgy name. I may not have any experience with GCHQ (although if the Secret Service is recruiting, I’m always free…) or have a 00 number, but my educated guess is that espionage isn’t really like that. After all, how often does one meet a hot female pilot called Pussy Galore, or engage in mind games with super-villains who have disfigured faces and Persian cats?

So Our Man in Havana is a refreshing change; not only is the protagonist an anti-spy, but he also sells vacuum cleaners and has a pious daughter determined to live the high life. There’s a dodgy Captain Segura – affectionately dubbed the Red Vulture – and a stereotypically British spy called Hawthorne. And, of course, a book code with which to decipher telegrams – in this instance, Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare. I’m looking forward to seeing what Greene throws at me in the rest of the novel!

Have you read this, or any other Graham Greene novels? Let me know in the comments!


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