Our Man in Havana

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of Our Man in Havana

Book description

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…

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Why read it?

5 authors picked Our Man in Havana as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

The closest ancestor I have found to my own writing, Greene, a former British intelligence officer, tells a classic spy story with an absurd sense of humor.

James Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman in need of cash, agrees to become an MI6 informant. But laziness causes him to invent intelligence, including by sketching vacuum cleaner parts and passing them off as drawings of a secret military installation.

When real life and the fake intelligence become intertwined, things get very strange and very funny. A joy to read.   

This one is a classic in the satirical espionage genre; a fish-out-of-water protagonist, the story being set in Cuba and taking aim at the MI6 Intelligence Service during the Cold War years. While it embraces its initial silliness, it ultimately embeds an important message into the narrative.

Perhaps the closest ancestor of my own work, and probably the most famous of Greene’s ‘entertainments’, Our Man in Havana is a dark comedy in which Greene satirizes his former employer, MI6, via the exploits of a struggling vacuum cleaner salesman called James Wormold.

Desperate for money, Wormold agrees to be an informant for British intelligence, but finds it’s easier to invent his reports rather than going to the trouble of finding actual intelligence. Among other deceits, he sends drawings of fake military installations based on vacuum cleaner parts.

He lands in hot water when real life becomes entangled with…

A second Graham Greene book but no apologies! Greene split his novels between the serious, like The Human Factor, and what he called ‘entertainments.’ Our Man in Havana, a black comedy, sits very firmly in the second category with Greene drawing inspiration from Garbo and Ostro, two German agents and skilled fabricators he dealt with during the Second World War, to ridicule his former profession. The British secret service’s ‘Man in Havana’ is James Wormold, a cash-strapped vacuum cleaner salesman, who creates an entirely false network of intelligence agents. When they produce the plans for a supposed top-secret…

From Michael's list on spy thrillers by former members of MI6.

Set in 1950s Havana, Our Man in Havana is a satirical novel about vacuum cleaner salesman, Jim Wormold, who is recruited by MI6 as a spy. Needing the money and without a clue on how to run agents, he begins fabricating his intelligence reports using names from the local country club and complex diagrams from his latest vacuum cleaner. All seems well until his made up reports start coming true. 

As one of Greene’s “entertainments” this prescient book perfectly captures the beginning of the Cold War and the cluelessness and desperation with which the world’s powers vied for influence and…

From Lachlan's list on spy books set in Latin America.

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