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0197 | To Have and Have Not – Ernest Hemingway

Context: finished this on our AirAsiaX flight from Stansted to Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian food was lovely.

This is not a well-known Hemingway as far as I’m aware. Nevertheless, it’s vintage Hemingway in pretty much every respect.

There’s the sea, boats, fishing, latino culture, guns, men and death. What more could you want?

It’s very much a tragic story of a life that goes bad more through chance than anything else. But go bad it does. On the way, a few ancilliary characters are thrown in. They aren’t fleshed out much. What, after all, in Hemingway ever is? But there are a couple of remarkable passages later in the book where the inner thoughts, fears and hopes of these are laid bare. It’s quite moving.

The message throughout is that morality is clouded by economic necessity and judgments about behaviour often fail to take this into account. Capitalism, arguably, is therefore culpable for criminal activity, not the individual human soul.

And this passage in particular, bearing in mind Hemingway’s own end, is very poignant:

[guns] those admirable American instruments so easily carried, so sure of effect, so well designed to end the American dream when it becomes a nightmare, their only drawback the mess they leave for relatives to clean up

Well worth the read but, because it’s Hemingway and his standard is so very high anyway, it only gets a “good” from me.
You know how it is there early in the morning in Havana with the bums still asleep against the walls of the buildings; before even the ice wagons come by with ice for the bars?

A large white yacht was coming into the harbour and seven miles out on the horizon you coul see a tanker small and neat in profile against the blue sea, hugging the reef as she made to the westward to keep from wasting fuel against the stream.

rubbish | poor | mediocre | okay | good | very good | excellent | superb

5 comments… add one
  • Jenny 29 July, 2009, 11:29 am

    Wow………. you are still finding time to review your reading whilst travelling. I will be following the context of your reading with interest and look forward to your posts during your holiday.

    What titles did you pack in your suitcase? Where in Australia will you be visiting?

  • Matt 2 August, 2009, 8:44 am

    Never read this one, but I was thinking about Hemingway’s writing as I visited Key West not too long ago.

  • mee 21 August, 2009, 7:40 pm

    It is amazing how the highly talented artists seem to have such unhappy lives. Perhaps that is what makes them talented.

  • James 25 September, 2009, 8:44 pm

    I consider the opening lines to be some of my favorite in all of literature. I don’t put all the blame on Hemingway for the rest because I read that the much of the manuscript was cobbled together after the author’s death. Maybe this is apocryphal but I choose to believe it.

    • Arukiyomi 26 September, 2009, 8:48 am

      thanks for the comment James… it wouldn’t surprise me if it was cobbled together, as you put it. It certainly has that feel and doesn’t have a finished feel to it.

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