The shocking thing about reading books from the 1950s is the casual racism. This is the first sentence of Greene’s novel, “’That nigger going down the street,’ said Dr Hasselbacher standing in the Wonder Bar, ‘he reminds me of you, Mr Wormold.’” Does this make it unreadable? Should it be read?
Well I persisted. Greene had a stellar reputation in the 50s and 60s. He’s extremely droll and in retrospect this novel set the scene for Castro and the Cuban Missile crisis. It’s also a satire on the pretensions of the British secret service which is uniformly ridiculed.
Wormold sells vacuum cleaners and when recruited by MI6 creates fake agents to collect their salaries and expenses. When cornered he scaled up a drawing of a vacuum cleaner and said it was a secret weapon. When he’s found out they offer him a job in training accompanied by an OBE to save their embarrassment.
It survives well provided you can hold your nose now and then (not very often). It’s beautifully well written, funny and perceptive. Yes. I am recommending it warts and all.