'To Have and Have Not' by Ernest Hemingway (1937)

To Have and Have Not - Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, To Have and Have Not (London: Arrow Books, 2004), 180pp


A good book but nothing special. Hemingway doesn't seem to identify where he wants to take the story, and this is evidenced in his experimental (and somewhat jarring) switches between third- and first-person, and between stream-of-consciousness and detached description. Consequently, the reader has to work harder to engage with the story than one does for Hemingway's better works. Even at a modest 180 pages, it makes for a mildly exhausting read. This is a shame as the story holds some promise. In his circumstances and motivations, Harry Morgan is one of Hemingway's better anti-heroes (or 'code heroes', if you prefer) and you would think that rum-running/trafficking between the US and Cuba would be fertile territory for this writer in particular.

Thematically, it also seems disjointed, and though one can identify Hemingway's attempt to juxtapose the lives of the rich and the poor (the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' of the title), the execution lacks conviction. If there is a section which is hard-hitting, it is Chapter 24, where Hemingway relates the stories of a few newly-introduced characters. The despair is palpable: in a particularly chilling section, one character contemplates suicide by gun - "those admirable American instruments... designed to end the American dream when it becomes a nightmare" (pg. 164) - which becomes even creepier when one recalls Hemingway's own tragic end. This chapter perhaps redeems the novel, but it is notable that Harry Morgan is barely involved in this part. The chapter seems like it was simply dropped into the story - indeed, it reads like something completely separate that one might find in a collection of Hemingway's short stories - and the overarching story of Harry seemed to lack commitment from the author. Hemingway later called the story a 'bunch of junk', but this is somewhat unfair. Alongside the junk there is some good stuff in To Have and Have Not, but be aware that you'll have to work to find it.