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'To Have And Have Not' is apparently regarded as Hemingway's worst novel - this shouldn't put you off, it is more a reflection of the high quality of his work in general rather than the low quality of this particular novel (he did after all win the Nobel prize for literature). The book is set in Cuba in the 1930s and consists of three short stories centering on a man named Harry Morgan. Harry's source of income is his boat, which he hires out for fishing trips, as well as for smuggling guns, rum and illegal immigrants. As the book progresses, Harry's situation becomes steadily worse - he loses his fishing kit, then his right arm following a shooting, then his boat. Harry copes by falling back on a macho code, his behaviour is that of a stereotypical hard man - emotionless, straightforward and practical. Hemingway is not proposing Harry's way of coping as correct, he is simply observing the behaviour of men in general and how they deal with adversity. Hemingway himself was a pretty tough character, and Harry probably accurately represents the kind of people he met in his travels. The dialogue is very sharp, the kind of snappy exchanges that cinema was blessed with in the fifties. The film (which incidentally bears very little resemblance to the book on which it is based) stars Humphrey Bogart in the role of Harry, and while reading the book I couldn't help but picture him speaking the words on the page. Don't worry if you haven't seen the film though, the conversations make for great reading in their own right. There is more to the overall structure of the book than just three short stories. The first story is told in first person from Harry's point of view; we are right there in his head, seeing the world through his eyes. Later, the narration moves to third person, and we can observe Harry from a distance as he is forced to cope with more and more desperate situations. As our viewp
oint moves away from Harry, Hemingway introduces us to more people inhabiting Harry's world, giving fascinating short descriptions of each. The final paragraph of the book is a descriptive 'pan-out' from the island of Cuba - Harry's story is just one amongst millions. This kind of thing is pretty hackneyed in the literature world, but Hemingway handles it subtly enough to avoid a 'thought for the day' feeling. (NB James Joyce does it better at the end of 'The Dead', which everyone should read). Harry is an incredibly cold person - he describes a murder in much the same tone as he describes fishing. The balance between this aspect of his personality and his love for his wife and children is brilliantly portrayed. Hemingway demonstrates how the apparently contradictory hard-side and soft-side exist in one man - 'To Have And Have Not' is a kind of ethical guidebook for REAL men who kill in cold blood but love their Mum. This is a very serious book; it's not clear whether Ernest Hemingway had a sense of humour at all. There is clearly no room for laughter in Hemingway's image of the real man, so don't expect any jokes. All the same, I did smile now and then at just how incredibly stoical Harry becomes in the face of his crises. Ernest Hemingway is one of the most famous authors of the twentieth century, but his greatest (?) work, 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' is rather long - perhaps not the kind of thing you would want to embark on without knowing a little about what to expect. I would recommend To Have And Have Not as a first read for anyone not familiar with Hemingway's style - while it may not be as monumental a work as 'For Whom...', it is a great introduction to his work.
Harry Morgan survives by rum-running, gun-running and man-running from Cuba to the Florida Keys in the Depression.