Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene

I do try to read non-scifi from time to time, and this book was heartily recommended by my father, so I thought I'd have a go. Reading the first couple of chapters, I was struck by a couple of things. Firstly, I didn't care for the style. The words didn't capture me, and I was feeling fairly resigned to a pretty hopeless book if the plot didn't start to pick up. Secondly, the book was both dated and modern. Dated in the sense that it really did feel so very grounded in the fifties, and that whole feeling of Cuba. It felt modern in the sense that it felt like it could have been someone writing recently about that period in Havana. In other words, our view of that period and its associated Cold War tensions hasn't really changed in 50 years, and his writing style is not particularly dated. Apparently some things just stay the same. I suspect this is somewhat helped by Havana's post-revolution stasis, making it somewhat easier to imagine Havana as it was.

Fortunately, the story picks up, and all too soon I'd finished the book. The plot's great, and nicely attacks the Cold War, but despite the comedy, it's more Le Carré than Dr. Strangelove. This is not to say it's not got some great comedic moments, but everything has an undercurrent of weakness and tragedy that makes it more interesting, and in places funnier. I'm not a great one for literary criticism, but I very much enjoyed the little essay on the book attached to the edition I read ("Vintage Classics"). It emphasised the themes running through the book which I'd only really semi-noticed, and made me realise that as well as the plot itself, there was a certain amount of crafting to appreciate. So while most of the actual sentences left me cold, I found the book much more satisfying on the grander scale.

Posted 2007-12-08.