I have just finished reading OUR MAN IN HAVANA. Greene may have called it one of his lighter pieces, but I found it up to his high standard. Much of it is an amusing, entertaining satire on the British intelligence community – MI6 – but through the satire comes glimpses of human nature at it darkest. The reader never knows exactly what Captain Segura does, other than being chief of police, but he is clearly quite a disgusting piece of work.
Moral Imagination in Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havana”
Michael De Sapio, The Imaginative Conservative, October 22nd, 2021
Graham Greene classified his 1958 novel “Our Man in Havana” as one of his lighter pieces or “entertainments,” yet which allows for a surprising amount of spiritual substance.
In his book The Catholic Writer Today, Dana Gioia examines the religious character of the celebrated “Catholic fiction” of the mid-20th century. He writes, “Surprisingly little Catholic imaginative literature is explicitly religious… Most of it touches on religious themes indirectly while addressing other subjects—not sacred topics but profane ones…. What makes the writing Catholic is that the treatment of these subjects is permeated with a particular worldview.” It’s a question, in other words, of exploiting the moral imagination in the most vivid light. This Christian and Catholic worldview “does not require a sacred subject to express its sense of divine immanence… The religious insights usually emerge naturally out of depictions of worldly existence.”
These words could be aptly applied to Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana (1958), a novel he classified as one of his lighter pieces or “entertainments” yet which allows for a surprising amount of spiritual substance. Set in Havana on the eve of the communist revolution, the story centers on James Wormold, an English expatriate who has sold vacuum cleaners in the Cuban capital for fifteen years. When a man from the British Secret Service comes by to recruit him to be a spy, Wormold jumps at the chance as it means extra income for his faltering business and a better future for his teenage daughter, Milly.