Whisky in Greeneland

Our Man in Havana Chess

Logic through spirits. The only way to play the game.

In his introduction to Our Man in Havana, Christopher Hitchens draws a distinction between Graham Greene’s whisky and non-whisky novels. He quotes the verse from the 1963 poem, ‘On the Circuit’, in which W. A. Auden is tempted by the novelist’s sweet healing drug:

Is this a milieu where I must
How grahamgreeneish! How infra dig!
Snatch from the bottle in my bag
An analeptic swig?

I, for one, took Greene’s impenitent reliance on the drinks driving his narrative – no scene ever far from a daiquiri or Wormold’s miniature whisky collection – to be a rather satisfying combination. The Cold War comes to be defined by an alcoholic anachronism, as though hungover before the drinking has started. In the climax of the novel, it would be a game of chess – with all the pieces replaced for miniature whisky bottles – that would finally free Wormold from the rather awkward implications of espionage and provide him with the courage to commit the killing.

The very same substance that would guard him from the terrors of his Catholic-come-narcissist of a daughter, Milly, and his material poverty for which she is mostly responsible would, in a beautiful irony, also liberate him from the mightiest cliff-hanger of all – that of a pre-nuclear conflict.

I have a feeling that Our Man in Havana is likely to stick with me.


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