Great cold war "spy" book. I loved it. Written over 50 years ago it is still funny and just so well written. I was expecting a light spy spoof, but this book is just so much more. At just over 200 pages it shows that good writers dont need 800+ pages to develop characters or tension. Highly recommended.
If it were not for his spendthrift daughter, Wormold may have bumbled along in Cuba until the rise of Castro would have forced his emigration back to his native soil, but his country and his offspring unknowingly conspired together to thwart such an uneventful end to Wormold's sojourn in Havana. Thoughts he might have had of whiling away the years with his drinking pal Dr. Hasselbacher, indulging the shopaholic Milly, playing checkers and selling his vacuum cleaners were soon to be put to flight. Hawthorne from MI6 made him an offer he couldn't refuse. If its reports they want, and are willing to pay for them, reports they shall have. Wormold takes to writing fiction like a duck to water and applies his skills to his new employment.
The sinister machinations of Captain Segura and the refreshing Beatrice add to the above to create a story well worth reading.
Not as funny as the critics said, but maybe things were different in the 1950's. Nonetheless, the plot of a wholly inept British Secret Service recruiting an imaginative prat to do their dirty work is very good and, in the light of the Cambridge Spies fiasco, very well founded. We trust these people to keep our country safe. What were we thinking?
Oh what an absolute gem. Chosen for a Book Club read this month and it was a complete hit. Greene's characters are rounded and before their time. Not particularly dated considering that it was written in the late '50's with a cast of strong and fabulous female characters essential to the action- how surprised were we all! Greene's attention to detail in his descriptions of people and locations is impeccable: lots of sharp observations but always the out-of-place phrase thrown in to make scenes real, awkward and incredibly funny. The main protagonist is a man of his time and who wouldn't really like him- code-decipherer, indulgent parent and super intelligent expert at tying Maida Vale up in knots with his imaginative doings. The dinner scene is a stroke of genius. Love the book. If you want to be tickled pink then buy it now. It's fantastic. And,yes please, I'd like to buy one of those Atomic Pile vacuum cleaners- they sound fab!
a great book which leads us through the life of the likeable Mr Wormold, with a fine balance of humour. the characters are so real and the author paints such a surreal image of each situation that they come to life.
overall this is a gripping read, got abit bored at some points (e.g. the chemistry between Wormold and Beatrice, found that pointless & too predictable) but it keeps you in awe right til the end.
To read this is to be reminded of the spate of "true classics" written in the mid-C20 when novelists still retained the fluency and eloquence stemming from a classical education which they were free for the first time to apply to the expression of real emotions, and the questioning of conventional values, morality and religion. There was so much to write about this that they felt no need for self-conscious experiments with structure or style.
Written with great prescience only a few months before the Cuban Revolution swept Castro to power in 1959, this black comedy introduces us to the anti-hero Wormold who at first seems pathetic, unable to demonstrate effectively the vacuum cleaners he is attempting to earn a living from selling, allowing himself to be twisted round the finger of his lovely but manipulative daughter Millie. Then we begin to see his unexpected resourcefulness when, bullied into acting as a secret agent for Britain, "our man in Havana", he begins to dream up a false trail of imaginary agents, all requiring payment of course, and even submits drawings of threatening installations, bearing an uncanny resemblance to hoover parts. He astonishes himself with the fertility of his imagination, "how quickly he could reply to any questions about his characters".
Initially, all this subterfuge is simply to indulge Millie's whim for a horse, with the string of extra expenses this entails, yet he gains a simple joy from supplying her wants: he admires in her the spirit which he lacks, and treasures the few remaining years in which he will be able to share her life.
Of course, his colourful reports to London will have unforeseen, perhaps grim or violent ramifications. Yet, ultimately Wormold may be protected by the fear of those in authority of losing face.
Beneath the vivid evocation of a crumbling but picturesque Havana, there are continual hints of a darker and growing violence, such as occasional harassment by the police who back off at the reference to a certain Captain Segura, reputed to carry with him a cigarette case made from the skin of one of his torture victims.
In all the humour and entertaining plot twists there are the usual "grahamgreeneish" insights into morality, faith, the meaning of life, the nature of love and honour. He likens Wormold's growing sense of guilt to a small mouse, to which he may soon become so accustomed that he will let it feed out of his hand. In the end "Would the world be in the mess it is if we were loyal to love and not to countries?" Greene clearly thought so, although perhaps confined this belief to his novels rather than practise it in his own life.
P.S. Does anyone know the full lyrics and tune for the song quoted, which begins "Sane men surround /You, old family friendss/They say the earth is round-/My madness offends./An orange has pips, they say,/An apple has rind./I say that night is day/And I've no axe to grind."?
Perfect classic. Not a long book but a great read and makes me want to visit Havana. The descriptions are excellent and the story builds in a credible and amusing manner. This is my second Graham Greene novel and I will read more on the strength of this one.
Very involved and convoluted, a little difficult to follow at times. He paints an intriguing picture of Cuba that made me want to experience it first hand. Excellent characterisation, I didnt understand all of the action or conversation but enjoyed the intrigue and interaction between the characters