Saturday, January 22, 2011

To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway

To Have and Have Not isn't a brilliant story, but it is an arresting depiction of a man in trouble. 

The novel was published in  1937 and tells the story of Harry Morgan who runs a fishing boat out of Key West, Florida.  He also runs contraband between Cuba and Florida to help make ends meet.  Harry is left desperate for money after a customer who has chartered him out for a fishing trip does a runner without paying.  Harry ups the risks he is prepared to take and agrees to transport illegal immigrants and then bank robbers.  There was only ever going to be one way this whole thing could end for him.

I wouldn't normally read Hemingway.  I have read The Old Man and the Sea.  But I was stranded at my dad's place during recent flooding and there was not alot to choose from.  I would describe Hemingway's style in this book as economical and hard.  Hard as in bleak.  Like I said the plot barely chugs along but he does capture the desperation and misery of the depression era.

In very few words Hemingway gets to the essence of his characters; often through good use of dialogue.  There are plenty of "bar talk" scenes in downtown Key West and we get a good feel for the difference between the poor local inhabitants and the wealthy tourists who blow in.  There is a sense of recklessness, depravity and violence in the town that is related to the uncertain times and people literally not having enough to eat.

I was also surprised because I found the female characters in this story were portrayed sympathetically and well. I had always thought that Hemingway had a reputation for being a bit of womanising so and so.  The relationship between Harry Morgan and his wife is sensitively and poignantly conveyed.  I was moved by their relationship and quiet understanding.

I am sure that To Have and Have Not is not one of Hemingway's best books, but I enjoyed reading it for the understated writing and the strong sense of place and feelings it evoked about the struggle to survive in the depression era.   It has encouraged me to pick up more of his work.

The picture of Hemingway is from 1939, and sourced from Wikipedia


  1. Thanks for this review; I made an effort last year to read more classics, but Hemingway was not among them. I seem to remember reading one of his in high school, but can't remember more than that (maybe A Farewell to Arms or The Sun also Rises). I want to try him again.

  2. I forgot that this was a Hemingway book! I've seen the movie & it got boring, but granted, Hemingway would be difficult to adapt to film. I think I'll try one of his bigger novels first but this sounds like it's worth a try. Thanks :)

  3. Over all I am not a big Hemingway fan but once and I while his sparse prose is a good change of pace-hope you and family recover from flood soon


Comments are very welcome.