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Our Man in Havana

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3.94  ·  Rating details ·  22,781 ratings  ·  1,511 reviews
MI6’s man in Havana is Wormold, a former vacuum-cleaner salesman turned reluctant secret agent out of economic necessity. To keep his job, he files bogus reports based on Charles Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and dreams up military installations from vacuum-cleaner designs. Then his stories start coming disturbingly true…
 
First published in 1959 against the backdrop of t
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Paperback, 228 pages
Published July 31st 2007 by Penguin Classics (first published 1958)
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David Pertaub Try to see the film if you can. It is a classic. Wormold is played by a young Alec Guinness - yes, Obi Wan Kenobi from the first Star Wars. Noel…moreTry to see the film if you can. It is a classic. Wormold is played by a young Alec Guinness - yes, Obi Wan Kenobi from the first Star Wars. Noel Coward also makes an appearance. From what I understand, Greene was involved in the adaptation too.(less)

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3.94  · 
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Candi
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Patriotic Englishman. Been here for years. Respected member of the European Traders’ Association. We must have our man in Havana, you know. Submarines need fuel. Dictators drift together. Big ones draw in the little ones."

If there was an award for most unlikely to succeed as a spy, Englishman James Wormold would definitely be in the running! You see, he is a vacuum salesman, whose latest machine, the ‘Atomic Pile Cleaner’, is not selling well due to its unfortunate name. After all, this novel t
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Bionic Jean
Jul 24, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bionic Jean by: Leslie
Graham Greene is one of the most highly regarded British authors of the 20th century. The American novelist John Irving has paid tribute to him, calling him,

"the most accomplished living novelist in the English language."

Very popular as a thriller-writer, writing "entertainments", as he called them, Graham Greene also wrote deeply serious Catholic novels, which received much literary acclaim, although he never actually won the Nobel prize for Literature. In these he examined contemporary moral a
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Bill  Kerwin

This is one of Graham Greene’s thrillers which he labeled as “entertainments” as a warning to his audience not to take these books seriously. Our Man in Havana definitely needs such a warning. There is no reason to take the book seriously at all.

The plot is promising. Havana vacuum cleaner Wormold, owner of an Havana vacuum cleaner shop, hard-pressed to satisfy the expensive tastes (horses, country club) of his beautiful, manipulative (and motherless) teenage daughter, decides—when recruited by
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Supratim
Dec 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had come across two lists mentioning the top 100 mystery/crime novels some time back. Both the lists - one by Britain-based Crime Writers' Association and the other by Mystery Writers of America, contained multiple books by Graham Greene. You can find both the lists here Link. The CWA list was published in 1990 and the MWA list in 1995. Pretty long time back but the books included are very fine specimens of crime writing.

I had read Greene's The Human Factor long time back and for some reason t
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Richard Derus
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: returned, borrowed
Graceless, gormless Wormold, a British sales agent for an American vacuum cleaner company in barely pre-Revolution Havana, has a problem. His adolescent daughter Milly, a manipulative and materialistic minx, spends well beyond his paltry earnings in her quest to ensnare the Red Vulture. That's a person, not a bird, one Captain Segura, who is the police torturer and possessor of a cigarette case covered in human skin. (An assertion Milly makes but Segura denies.) Wormold is fighting a losing batt ...more
Hadrian
Who ever knew that Graham Greene could be so funny? This is fine entertainment, although as always influenced by Greene's view on morality and fate. Not that that's bad, because Greene does it so well.

This idea about inventing a spy network and going along with the deception reminds me of the story of Agent Garbo during WWII.
Sue
Sep 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Sue by: CR reading list
This is a fun read, the story of an accidental spy. Mr Wormold (love that name) sells vacuum cleaners in Havana, not very successfully, until one day he is recruited by a British agent to work for his country while living in that no longer romantic foreign outpost. To be a secret agent! Well--the story takes off from there with a cast of slightly crazy characters: Wormold's religiously manipulative daughter Milly, Captain Segura the head of the local police who has mastered torture, locals of va ...more
James
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first of Graham Greene’s novels I’ve read that is classed as one of his “entertainments” – so I wasn’t at all sure what to expect. The style, tone and nature of ‘Our Man in Havana’ clearly has a very different feel to his more serious novels (‘Heart of the Matter’, ‘End of the Affair’ et al) and as such is quite distinct from that oeuvre.

‘Our Man in Havana’ is very well written as you would expect from Graham Greene and is certainly very entertaining, very funny throughout. The plot
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Werner
Aug 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Greene fans; fans of cynical satire
Recommended to Werner by: It was a common read in one of my groups
Shelves: espionage
Greene divided his own fiction between the novels and stories he considered more serious, such as The Heart of the Matter, and those he viewed as lighter "entertainments." This relatively short (247 pages --and not all of them with text) novel is one of the latter; and like many of the "entertainments" it draws on the author's World War Ii experiences as a spy for Britain's M-16 intelligence agency. (And it's obvious here that these weren't experiences he looked back on fondly.) Set in pre-Castr ...more
booklady
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jim Wormold, divorcé, lives in Havana with his pretty teenage daughter, Milly. He has one friend, Dr. Hasselbacher and struggles to make ends meet as a none-too-successful vacuum cleaner salesman. Then an unexpected person walks into his life—with what you might call an ‘opportunity too good to refuse’. He can become the undercover British Agent in Havana, watch for/report on suspicious activity, recruit his own agents, set up an expense account, and start earning that second income he so desper ...more
Russ Melrose
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this Graham Greene novel. What a treat! It's a cold war spy novel taking place in the late '50s in Havana (pre-Castro). The protagonist, Wormold, is a peddler of vacuum cleaners who is asked to spy for MI6. Of course, Wormold is about the worst candidate you could possibly find to be a spy. But he takes the job anyway, mainly so he can dote financially on his teenage daughter, Milly.

Our Man in Havana is a humorous satire on the the cold war spy era. Greene especially takes
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Grace Tjan
spoilers!


Uncorrected Transcript of Oral Evidence

Taken before the Intelligence and Security Committee Tuesday 15 July 1958

Members present:

Mr. Paul Anderson, in the Chair
Mr. Jonathan Blakeley
Mr. Richard Cunningham QC



Witnesses: MR. JAMES WORMOLD, O.B.E., former SIS operative in Havana, Cuba, 1955-1957; and MRS. BEATRICE WORMOLD (NEE SEVERN), formerly a secretary at the SIS headquarters.

Q1 Chairman: Mr. and Mrs. Wormold, may I welcome you to this hearing, which purpose is to examine the veracity of
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David
May 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english-lit
Graham Greene always amazed me as he wrote about topical subjects before they became topical.

It's a funny thing. I read this book several decades ago along with all the other Graham Greene books (the Paul Hogarth illustrated covers series by Penguin). Then last week a local theatre company put on this play so I couldn't resist. To be honest I vaguely remembered this story. At times I thought it seemed a little dated (now it's a period piece) but the mixture of black humour and Greene's plot line
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Irene
Jan 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud when reading a book. This story of a British vacuum cleaner salesman recruited to be a spy in Cuba at the height of the Cold War was clever, smart, funny and totally entertaining. I don’t think I will ever hear a report from any intelligence agency the same way again.
Elaine
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
I first read this book 30 years ago and was charmed by Greene's sardonic sendup of the spy genre (I didn't fully appreciate at the time that OMIH pre-dated most of what I thought of as the spy genre). Re-reading it again this year after a visit to Cuba, I loved (along with the wit, which sparkles as brightly as ever) the deft way Greene conveys the atmosphere of Havana (more the same than you might think, after 60 years) in very few words. In particular, understanding the history better this tim ...more
Cbj
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
***SPOILERS ALERT***

Our Man in Havana is a satirical spy novel set in Havana during the cold war. British influence over the rest of the world is on the wane. An alcoholic British expatriate Jim Wormold - who owns a shop that sells vacuum cleaners is hired by a British intelligence agency as their man (spy) in Havana.

Wormold is a lot like Henry Scobie in Greene's The Heart of the Matter. He is a middle aged man who does not know what he is to do with the rest of his life. How will he go on? How
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Julie Christine
This farce holds the same canny and clever delight as the Pink Panther, Dr. Strangelove and The Comedy of Errors, with dialogue and pacing to which David Mamet is clearly indebted. I could almost see the smoke from Graham Greene's typewriter keys swirling in the air as he tore through sheets of erasable bond, churning out this crazy, wonderful and utterly a propos satire of spies.

It's the mid 1950's when we meet our man, Jim Wormold, a milquetoast British expatriate who moved to Havana prior to
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Alex
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, favorites
Even though this is one of Graham Greene's "entertainments", it is his own real employment with MI6 during WW2 that adds layers to this otherwise light hearted satire on the British Secret Service.

Here Greene has written a story of a British citizen (Wormold) living in Havana in the early 1950s during the Batista regime. He is a dour middle aged vacuum cleaner salesman with a bombshell 16 year old daughter, Milly, whose burgeoning sexuality is at odds with her Catholic morality: something she h
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Teresa
Jan 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
A well-written, perfectly plotted, political, prescient "entertainment" that, while reading, I didn't feel at all the implausibility of the recruitment by the British Secret Service of a vacuum-cleaner salesman living in Cuba or that of the courting of his Catholic teenage daughter by a Cuban policeman/enforcer. The humor in the dialogue and elsewhere is dry and funny in a-wink-and-a-nod kind of way.

I had disliked the similes in the otherwise-wonderful The Human Factor, which I'd found awkward,
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Jeremy
’It seems worthwhile being blind in this sun.’


Our Man and Captain Segura—the Red Vulture, the Cuban police torturer with a cigarette lighter covered in human skin—get together and play checkers regularly; and, regularly enough, ‘huffing’ came into play. I’m not a checkers or draughts player; I had to look it up.

In almost all the variations of the game of checkers, a player is required to make a jump or a capture if such a move is available. There are certain variations of the game however where
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Tripp
Jun 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana is a delightful farce that manages to be serious and laugh out loud funny at the same time. It follows the unfortunate Wormold, a British vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana whose shortage of funds finds him willing to accept an offer to join the British Intelligence Service. As a generally inept and careless person, he can do any actual spying, so he ends up sending fake reports back to London so that he can use his expense fund to pay for his daughter's many exp ...more
John Farebrother
A brilliant, hilarious read of espionage and pompous civil servants who are so inept they're not fit to run a chip shop. Perhaps not so funny if you've worked for the civil service and you realise that the story is entirely feasible. Uncannily reminiscent of The Tailor of Panama. A spymaster and an expat on the ground in Cuba manage to concoct between them, but entirely without each other's knowledge, a fantasy international plot, which allows the "source" to receive generous ex-gratis payments, ...more
Geevee
Jan 12, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
An enjoyable story about Mr Wormald the vacuum salesman and his stumbles and development into a spy. For me this had echoes of Waugh's Scoop as the plot developed and Wormald enters the world of espionage and then gets noticed: by London and people in Cuba.

What is interesting away from the story's subject matter and absurdity of Wormald and what he reports is that three years later after this story was published the Bay of Pigs enters fact followed a year later by the Cuban Missile crisis. Bein
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Patrick Sherriff
While it is a product of its time -- Greene was writing when Britain still had remnants of empire left -- the author's humanity and humour shine through today. While partly a satire on the British establishment of the 1950s a la Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim, the tale manages to stay one step above farce and keeps us reading with believable characters in a situation that becomes ever more unbelievable. There are also tasty meta aspects -- our hero builds ever more fantastic backstories for his list ...more
Calzean
I had read this book many years ago and remember it as a farcical lampoon. But I had not remembered it was such a sophisticated piece of writing. Catholicism, anti-American, criticism of England's treatment of it's Empire, the arrogance of the English class system, and a clarity as to what drove the cold war along were all covered. Greene also included lots of whisky, drinking and bars.
The characters were great. The mundane, underachieving vacuum seller Wormold, his half-nun/half-vixen daughter,
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Emma
Apr 24, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This didn't really appeal to me much. It was meant to be comedic in tone and I suppose I found it slightly so. It is Graham Greene taking a shot at the world of British Intelligence in pre-Castro Cuba. Most reviewers seemed to like this so I think the problem is mine rather than the book's!
Daniel
Jan 19, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008, book-club
Given the supposed military intelligence that led to the war in Iraq, it's tempting to look to books such as "Our Man in Havana," Graham Greene's comic spy novel about the Cold War, for parallels to our current situation. (In the book, drawings of pieces of a household vacuum cleaner are passed off as schematics for sophisticated weaponry.) Rather than there being any direct correlation, however, it brings more to mind that quote sometimes attributed to Mark Twain about how history may not repea ...more
Judy
Dec 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Judy by: Anne
I LOVE this book! It reminds me of a Wodehouse with smarter characters, but with similar dry British humor and hilarious anecdotes.

The sauciness of teenage saint Millie, her too-old-for-a-suitor torturing policeman who knows everything that goes on in Havana (and probably Cuba), her father, Wormold, who is "our man in Havana", not to mention his secretary and agents, provided me with belly laughs, snickers and guffaws aplenty. Wormold ekes by as a vacuum cleaner dealer until approached by a Sec
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Steve
Not a bad book by any means, but the 150-page set-up seemed to be really excessive when compared to the 50-page climax. Overall, it was a clever, humorous take on the ultra-serious world of international espionage. I don't say this very often (ever?), but I think this book would have worked better as a short story.
RJ
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Perhaps it's safest to assume every expatriate living in pre-revolution Cuba is a spy in Greene's classic Cold War espionage satire. Vacuum salesman James Wormold has no interest in being an MI6 agent but the money sure comes in handy in raising his beautiful teenage daughter, who has caught the eye of a notoriously dangerous military Captain. Greene's brisk prose is alternately hilarious and touching and even thought-provoking at times, accomplishing more in 228 pages than most authors achieve ...more
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3,438 followers
Henry Graham Greene, OM, CH was an English novelist, short story writer, playwright, screenplay writer, travel writer and critic whose works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Greene combined serious literary acclaim with wide popularity.

Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a “Catholic novelist” rather than as a “novelist who happened to be Ca
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“I don't care a damn about men who are loyal to the people who pay them, to organizations...I don't think even my country means all that much. There are many countries in our blood, aren't there, but only one person. Would the world be in the mess it is if we were loyal to love and not to countries?” 303 likes
“There was always another side to a joke, the side of the victim.” 28 likes
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