To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
This is an oldie but, like other novels by this author, is one that has aged remarkably well, considering that it was first published in 1937. I can’t claim to be an authority on Hemingway. I wish I could. I would like to be able to discuss his ‘style’. I read others who appear confident in describing his literary methods. Yet although I cannot, and have no desire to, dissect his approach to putting down his lines, I can still decide upon what I like. I like Hemingway.
Thus far, I can only recall reading two other novels by this literary great; For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. I am very pleased to have now added To Have and Have Not to this modest list.
Harry Morgan is our central protagonist for this tale. He is an ex-cop from Florida who is described by a female admirer as being reminiscent of Genghis Khan ( a renowned sexy devil). Morgan is a smuggler, running drink and people between Cuba and the Florida Keys. It’s a tough life and Morgan is a tough man. He moves in dangerous circles and has no compunction about taking a life or risking his own.
Although the bold Harry can seem callous, he is also reasonably fair in a world were such can be regarded as a weakness. He is not boring. As his good friend, Albert Tracy, says of him, ‘He was mean talking now, all right, and since he was a boy he never had no pity for nobody. But he never had no pity for himself either.’
Ignoring the double negatives (if the pedants among you might), we can get a fair assessment of the inimitable Morgan as he thuds through life trying to make enough money to feed himself, his woman and their three daughters during the times of the Depression.
The story moves in a number of episodes from Cuba to the US. There is a surprising, but not uncomfortable, digression into the lives of other complete strangers, that seemingly has little direct connection to the main plot. Yet, such excursions serve to highlight the lives of those who have, with those who have not, in addition to creating a more twisted ambiance for the central tale.
One point of note is the language used. While it can be said that the novel was of its time, there is still a startling usage of racist terms that would today be roundly condemned. Harry Morgan, although not appearing to be a sadistic bigot, does engage in a typical working class deployment of crude words. Yet, strangely (and perhaps this has more to do with the censors and attitudes of that era), there is little profanity, though Harry Morgan is a man who would without doubt revel in the use of every swear word under the sun, and then some.
Hemingway writes as someone who is confident enough to provide such risque scenes and sexually suggestive imagery as would shock those writers today who solemnly take the Hypocritic oath before putting pen to paper.He was a brave and bold leader.
I really enjoyed this short novel. The scenic depictions were emotive. The sea and its vessels were – as would be expected with Hemingway – presented in great detail. As heavy as the story-line gets at times, the writing is fresh, effecting a beautiful balance.
One sentence stuck out for me though.
‘…those admirable American instruments so easily carried, so sure of effect, so well designed to end the American dream when it becomes a nightmare, their only drawback the mess they leave for relatives to clean up.’
Ernest Hemingway shot himself on 2nd July, 1961, at his home in Ketchum, Idaho, 24 years after publication of To Have and Have Not. His wife, Mary, discovered his body, and his ‘mess’…
It would be easy to become lost pondering whatever dark thoughts such a great man carried throughout his life of much adventure. One thing is certain though, Hemingway left behind a literary legacy that will last forever.
To Have and Have Not is a wacky, kooky, thrilling, cold, warm and engaging read, that left me with a feeling of something not yet done. I wanted to read more. It’s a fine book and I’m glad to have found it.
Sult Scale rating: 8 our of 10. Recommended.