My version: Paperback
Genre: Fiction Espionage
Publisher: Vintage Classics
First published: 1958 (this version 2004)
First published by: William Heinemann
From the cover:
Wormold is a vacuum cleaner salesman in a city of power cuts. His adolescent daughter spends his money with a skill that amazes him, so when a mysterious Englishman offers him an extra income, he’s tempted. In return all he has to do is carry out a little espionage and file a few reports. But when his fake reports start coming true things suddenly get more complicated and Havana becomes a threatening place.
Our Man In Havana is a funny book. Not as in laugh out loud funny, more smile while shaking the head and thinking ‘yeah, I know how that happens.”
The British ‘Secret’ Service who find Wormold and his vacuums such an irresistible proposition for their spying – think “Can you keep a secret?” “Yes.” “Well you’re in then!” – know so little about what’s going on, and even less about what’s going on in Havana, that even though Wormold doesn’t know what’s going on either, and only really begins to file made-up reports to have something to show for his money, they lap it up. Back at HQ, Wormold becomes a big prize, careers are made, or embellished and a finger on the pulse ‘down there’ is celebrated. Much to his chagrin, some of Wormold’s false reports, start coming closer and closer to the truth. Whatever that might be. From there, things begin to go wrong, but never so wrong that it doesn’t make sense to someone.
It seems to have long been considered a ‘Classic’ and I will, for once, go along with that. It’s my first Graham Greene and I was mightily impressed. It’s not a comedy, of errors or that, it’s a look at the British espionage game – what was still the ‘Great Game’ – of the time. It is a wonderful read, one of those where you feel there isn’t a word out of place and though you’re not quite sure where and how, but you end up thinking “Now, that was a really good book.”