Friday, April 25, 2014

Review of To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway (Schribner, 1937)

Harry Morgan is a rough and ready sailor and tough guy working as a fishing guide out of Key West and occasionally smuggling any kind of contraband that can’t talk from Cuba into prohibition era US.  Married with three young girls his prime aim to bring home an income to pay the bills.  But after a charter hire runs out on him in Cuba without paying he decides to take up an offer to smuggle a dozen men to the US, playing by his own rules.  A few months later he is still doing runs to Cuba, but is finding it increasingly difficult to outwit the law or those he’s doing business with, but he’s not going to throw in the towel without a fight.

To Have and Have Not is written like a hardboiled noir, played out on Harry Morgan’s boat and the bars and harbours of Key West and Havana.  Hemingway’s prose is deceptively simple, using short declarative sentences to create a tense atmosphere.  Morgan is a hard, suspicious man, somewhat of a bully, misogynist and racist, who has little pity for others or himself, yet other men and women seem drawn to his roughed, abrasive demeanour.  He’s willing to take a risk and to play hard.  Throughout the story his position gets increasingly worse as he raises the risks that he’s prepared to take in order to try and get his life back on an even keel.  Some of the passages create a wonderful scene, such as the charter hire trying to catch a marlin, but the story is uneven and veers off on an extended, unrelated tangent about two thirds of the way that added little to the story and felt oddly out of place.  The tale would have worked much more effectively if it had just stuck to Harry Morgan’s misadventures.


Rick Robinson said...

I read this a long time ago, before I'd seen the film. I didn't notice that side trip - still don't recall it - but remember liking the book.

George said...

Loved the Bogart movie!