These are books for my Nobel Prize Challenge. My first review was Toni Morrison’s Sula, and now my current review will be on Ernest Hemingway and his 1937 book To Have and Have Not and his 1952 novella The Old Man and the Sea.
I honestly picked To Have and Have Not because of the 1944 movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. I haven’t seen all of it, but the scenes I have seen between them were smoking, so I figured why not give it a try as it sounded pretty good. Only problem is the film is set during World War II and is about getting away from Nazis, whereas the book is set in Depression era Key West and is about early Cuban revolutionaries. Hemingway originally wrote the book as a 2 short stories and a novella, and really only came about because of a contractual agreement with his publisher. I always thought of Hemingway as a man’s man, because he is almost always pictured shooting large game on a safari or bullfighting, and he worked as a foreign war correspondant for a newspaper before he became a writer. He was married four times, suffered from depression in later life and eventually committed suicide.
There are flashes of brilliance in the writing, but it is overshadowed by the tangintial storyline with rambles on and on. The whole book seems really disjointed because it starts out with Harry Morgan’s story, which was kind of fascinating, but then kept jumping into secondary stories like Richard Gordon, his wife, and the Professor who broke up their marriage. As Andrew Blackman said in his review of the book, “The main problem with the book is that it is schizophrenic. It’s a cross between an adolescent high-seas adventure story and a social analysis of the effects of the Great Depression. The writing style, too, is schizophrenic, lurching from first person to third person, from one character’s point of view to another’s.” Ok, I realize that this book was written in 1937 and being racist back in the day was considered socially acceptable, but it is kind of hard to read in the 21st century. Literally for the first five minutes of the audiobook, all the narrator said was the N-word. There are other racist episodes, which include more uses of the “N-word” and derogatory terms for Chinese and Cubans. Hemingway is also generally sexist towards women as well in the text, regarding them as frivilous and stupid.
On to the actual storyline of To Have and Have Not. Harry Morgan is a down-on-his-luck fisherman who takes rich folks deep sea fishing off the Florida Keys. After his last pickup broke one his fishing poles and then skipped out on paying for it, and seeing as he has a wife and three daughters to support at home, he decides to take some illegal work, including ferrying Chinese workers to Cuba, smuggling liquor, and providing a getaway for Cuban gangsters who have stolen money from Key West to fund the revolution in Cuba. It becomes pretty obvious, early on, that Harry and his “rummy” (alcoholic) crew-members are part of the “have-not” crowd who have to struggle to survive, while the rich white men he takes out fishing or that stay in their yachts in the harbor are the “haves”. The book is pretty dismal and sad, although I was never quite sure if I should root for Harry or not, as most of the trouble he got into was his own fault. One thing I did really like about the book is the relationship between Harry and his wife. Though obviously not a looker, Marie Morgan tries her best and keeps her bleached blonde look up for her husband. They seem to have a tender loving relationship, despite his prickly exterior and attitude to everything else. She is completely devastated at the end of the book when Harry’s actions ultimately lead to his death. 2-1/2 stars.
I decided that maybe I should read something a bit better from Hemingway, as he seems to actually be a good writer, but I may have picked his worst book. So I decided to read Old Man and the Sea to get a different perspective on Hemingway as a writer. Ok, I will admit that after reading the book, I am still not a Hemingway fan. I just couldn’t get into it. The story is about a decrepit old man who has been a fisherman all his life. He used to have a little boy who helped him but since his luck has run out, the boy is working for someone else. The old man has not caught any fish for eighty-four days (equals out to about 2-1/2 months, which if fishing is your livelihood, is a bloody long time). The boy trys to take care of him and make sure he is fed. The old man goes out in the morning, determined to get a fish today and he ends up battling the father of all swordfish for about 3 days before he finally manages to skewer it. Only problem is that because it is bleeding, this attracts three sharks that eat it before he can make it to land. By the time he does, only the head and skeleton are attached to the old man’s boat. You want the old man to succeed because he has had such a hard time of it and battling this enormous fish for three days, and also slowly going a bit crazy. But at the same time, you know he is doomed to failure. It was a depressing and sad book. Recommended for ages 14+, 2-1/2 stars.