Some books just don’t travel well through time. “To Have and Have Not” is, I suspect, one such. There are all too obvious examples of where some of the words Hemingway uses – and the prejudices expressed – are clearly not acceptable to a modern twenty-first century readership, and the dated nature of language is self-evident beyond the considerable repetition of ‘the n-word’.
Having said that, the structure of the novel is a modern – if perhaps confused – mix of first person, third person, narrative voice, and in a couple of places almost stream of consciousness.
In a way, of course, “To Have and Have Not” is a snapshot of America in the 1930s – and of the Florida-Cuba ‘low life’ dynamic in particular; a world filled with smugglers, revolutionaries, and ‘rummies’. In that sense it is a historical document (albeit a fictional one) depicting the brutal conditions many faced at the time, exposing the violent, immoral code by which some men – and women – lived. There is an interesting penultimate chapter in the novel which seems out of kilter with the rest, focussing on the rich and privileged moored up in the same Key West dock into which the stricken Harry Morgan’s boat is towed. Perhaps Hemingway is suggesting that the lack of morality – as well as a different kind of violence – attached itself to all sorts of people in the volatile years at the end of the depression.
Whatever you do, don’t expect to find Bogart and Bacall in the book.
I vaguely recall reading “A Farewell to Arms” many years ago and it comes back to me as nothing like “To Have and Have Not” – and perhaps a little more ‘Hollywood’. Perhaps I should go back and re-read it.