Tuesday, January 28, 2014

“To Have And Have Not” – Book Review



This year on my annual vacation, I continued my tradition of Hemingway books by reading his novel “To Have And Have Not”.

Harry Morgan, an ex-Miami cop, is now supporting his wife Marie and their two daughters by renting out his boat for fishing trips and parties.  Between the fact that the country is deeply ensconced in The Great Depression of the 1930’s and customers who skip out on him without paying for his services, Harry now finds himself in the rather uncomfortable position of being forced to make money illegally – specifically, hauling contraband and illegal aliens between Cuba and Key West.  Frequently finding himself in dangerous and violent predicaments, he murders one man who engaged him to transport Chinese to Florida and later loses both his boat and his arm when trying to carry rum.   

Securing another boat, Harry is hired to escort some Cubans from Key West back to their home country.  But what Harry doesn’t know until the day of the job is that they’ve robbed a bank to get money for the revolution in their homeland.  Once onboard, they murder his first mate, but Harry manages to kill them in return – however, before the last one dies, he shoots Harry in the stomach.  Days later, the Coast Guard hauls in the boat and rushes Harry to a nearby hospital for treatment. 

After the point at which Harry shot the Cuban bank robbers, the book takes some odd little detours for a few chapters, delving into the lives of some ancillary characters.  It is not until the penultimate chapter do we get something of a resolution.  The final chapter actually serves as more of an epilog.  This makes the book feel a bit unbalanced.  Granted, the chapters containing these little side trips are likely intended to contrast “The Haves” against “The Have Nots” to make the point of illustrating that even the people who are perceived as being “The Haves” do not necessarily have it all that rosy. 

It is interesting to know how this great writer’s book was received when originally published.  On October 17, 1937, a review appeared in the pages of  The New York Times which essentially trashed this novel.  The critic felt that although Hemingway had published a good deal of work – both fiction and non-fiction – in the eight years since his last novel “A Farewell To Arms”, his new one “To Have and To Have Not” proved to be a rather bitter disappointment after such a long wait. 

Among the things I found a bit distracting in this book were the fact that Hemingway used a great many nautical terms, which I must admit that I did not understand.  This, as we know, was one of the author’s great passions – however, if you did not share this passion, then it could be easy to find yourself sort of lost at times.  The other thing was the use and frequency of The ‘N’ Word; while it was both useful and necessary in order to provide a flavor of both the characters and the time in which they lived, it can still be a bit jarring to see it in print, especially when tossed off in such a casual manner.  It may be worth mentioning that in the version of the book I read, there was occasional censoring of a few words of the four-letter variety, which seems a bit inconsistent, at best. 

For what it’s worth (and quite possibly, not much), I’ve added the trailer to the movie version of this book, which stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  While I’ve never seen the movie, I’ve heard that as film adaptations go, it bears precious little resemblance to the Hemingway novel on which it is allegedly based.  So, if you’ve already seen the movie and think that you know the story in the novel, guess again – you might want to actually read the source material and compare for yourself which one is better. 


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