Constructive Writing: Our Man in Havana, by Graham Greene

Greene Our Man in HavanaWithin the first few pages the book is outlined. We’re introduced to major settings, problems, and characters. Soon, even the famous showdown with minute bottles of whisky is preempted.

‘Do you know what I’d do with them if I were you?’ Hasselbacher said. ‘Play checkers. When you take a piece you drink it.’ (p.34)

It is so neatly presented that it is like a structure of a Hollywood film. Perhaps that is why it is such a pleasant and easy read. It also tells a great story of farce.

Our Man in Havana does not rocket along. It grows to a point where everything taking place meets a head, which is both logical and bizarre. That is why this is known as a great work of humour. The story is told quite factually, without malice toward places or and characters. It is just facts, well told, funny and enjoyable to read.

No Havana resident ever went to Sloppy Joe’s because it was the rendezvous of tourists; but tourists were sadly reduced nowadays in number, for the President’s regime was creaking dangerously towards its end. (p.22)

Changing Status: Our main character, Wormold, is single, unimportant, out of place, poor (by British standards) and disinterested in his own life. All this is going to change, and change at the hand of the highest office in the British Secret Service. Wormold himself must also rise to compete against the best in a craft he knows little about.

The Worst: It would seem being bland is the worst thing in Wormold life. Soon he could not only lose his business, home, and daughter. He could lose his life. That’s worse.

High Stakes: And those are the stakes. As he beings to fear being uncovered by both the Havana and British agents, the climax with Captain Segura is ultimately about saving his life and his daughter.

Believable Characters: As absurd the actions of most of these characters are, they are believable. The world has homelessness, prostitutes and despair, and the mindset of the central characters is ridiculous but consistent. This steady approach, the true to form nature, is what makes the whole humour of the world work.

Time Pressure: As the book menders along the lies Wormold has told begin to constrict his options, and speed his importance to the British Secret Service and to Havana’s police force.

Educate: How preposterous the notion of international spy agencies are. And what life in Havana could be like. It possiblely also educates on how not to behave in certain circumstances.