Saturday, May 21, 2016

Our Man in Havana [1958]

Graham Greene had a fascinating panache for time and place, aided in no small parts by his tryst with the British Foreign Service and his experiences in volatile locations around the world – no wonder, the murky Cold War era played such a dominant role in so many of his books. Written a year before Castro’s cigar-smoking guerilla revolutionaries overthrew the decadent and corrupt Batista dictatorship in Cuba, Our Man in Havana was a delightfully prescient tale, filled with deadpan humour that alternated between chuckle-inducing amusements and black comedy, which wryly satirized the then atmosphere of paranoia, hostility and cloak-and-dagger adventurism. When James Wormold, the novel’s docile and clueless middle-aged vacuum salesman, plagued with ennui and the constant desire for extravagance of his capricious daughter who’s bound to remind one of the female protagonist in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, is approached by MI6 to be their man in Havana, he concocts a seemingly harmless plan to earn some easy cash by recruiting fictitious agents and inventing a story of a clandestine military establishment for developing a weapon of mass destruction which bears a funny resemblance to a giant vacuum-cleaner. However, when his secret reports start getting intercepted by the other side, his uneventful life ends up becoming treacherous and dangerous by the day. A host of hilariously caricaturized “types” – a lonely WWI veteran who is Wormold’s drinking partner, a ruthless Chief of Police with a disturbing theory on the “torturable class”, an impotent and guileless assassin, the buffoonish head of MI6, and a sassy yet gullible female employee of the Secret Service with whom Wormold embarks on a sweet affair – along with brilliant evocation of the swanky hotels, smoke-filled bars and seedy nightclubs of the city on the cusp of history, made this comic, absurdist, moody and self-referential tale a potent evocation of Greene’s life-long dilemmas and troubled relationship with matters pertaining to faith, espionage and international politics.

Author: Graham Greene
Genre: Comedy/Spy Novel/Political Satire
Language: English
Country: UK

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