To Have and Have Not – Ernest Hemingway

January 25, 2014

To Have and Have Note (Hemmingway novel) 1st edition cover.jpg

Set in Cuba and Key West, against the background of prohibition, the Great Depression and the spread of communism, To Have and Have Not, as the title suggests, is about the difference between the rich and the poor. The first half of the novel focuses in Harry Morgan, a tough, often cruel rum runner who works the Gulf Stream. He’s in the classic Hemingway mold, but is neither as noble nor as colourful as some of the author’s more beloved protagonists.

After a rich passenger stiffs him for a season’s work, Harry is forced to take a job smuggling ‘ Chinamen’, typical of the dangerous assignments he feels he has to take on to feed his family. At this point, the theme is subsumed by the exotic setting of Cuba and the adventure of the smuggling trade. Read the rest of this entry »


The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

August 5, 2012

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

An old fisherman has been eighty-four days at sea without catching anything.    He is said to be unlucky, and the boy that was apprenticed to him has been assigned to another boat.  Still, on the eighty-fifth day, he rises, as always, before dawn, rows out into the open ocean, drops his precisely weighted lines, and waits.  The sun climbs high into the sky and he catches only bait.

Then, around noon, his line is taken by a great fish.  As the battle stretches over days and nights, it becomes clear that it will claim one of their lives, for the man must fight not just with the marlin, but with his fatigue, hunger, thirst, and his old body.

The Old Man and the Sea was a return to form for the aging Hemingway, and it won him the Nobel Prize.  The story is so simple that it can be taken as an allegory for many things: writing, the creative process, life’s struggles.  The picture presented is bleak but uplifting.

The old man, Santiago, is a hero, strong, focused and fearless, the personification of the author’s quasi-religious views on masculinity.  He is also simple and humble, in contrast to Hemingway’s earlier hard-drinking, hard-living protagonists.

A beautiful, small book that typifies the iceberg method, of something written truly being able to stand for many things.  Recommended.

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

May 8, 2012

Me at Shakespeare and Company, Paris

A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir of his early days in Paris and his friendships with literary figures such as Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It presents a romantic image of a starving artist, unable to afford wood for heating, gambling on horse racing to escape the bread line, but working everyday with great dedication to perfect his craft.

Hemingway’s portrayal of his first wife, Hadley, is full of affection and regret.  “[W]e were very poor and very happy”.  This contrasts with how he depicts his more famous relationships.  His Stein is a semi-tyrannical gossip lacking discipline towards her work.  Scott Fitzegerald was a neurotic alcoholic.  Zelda Fitzgerald was a manipulative and promiscuous harpy.  Only Ezra Pound completely escapes his vitriol.  The book is both a cautionary tale on the trappings of riches and success, and a surprisingly bitchy tell-all. Read the rest of this entry »

Indian Camp – Ernest Hemingway

January 21, 2012

Describe it

The first Nick Adams short story from In Our Time, in which Nick’s father, a doctor, takes him to an Indian camp to see a complicated birth.  Described by one critic as the “master key” to Hemingway’s writing.

What I loved

It all rings true.  One of my favourite Hemingway quotes from The Green Hills of Africa goes:

“First, there must be talent, much talent. Talent such as Kipling had. Then there must be discipline. The discipline of Flaubert. Then there must be the conception of what it can be and absolute conscience as unchanging as the standard meter in Paris, to prevent faking. Then the writer must be intelligent and disinterested and above all he must survive.”

Perhaps the most striking word in this quote is “disinterested”, which seems a strange trait to encourage in writers.  By this, I believe that Hemingway meant that a good writer must have the ability to take a step back and observe life, dispassionately, unblinkered by dogma or fear, never turning away from notions that society deems unacceptable.

In Indian Camp, Hemingway’s commitment to truthfulness can be seen in his exploration of masculinity, one of his chief preoccupations.  Read the rest of this entry »

Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway [Round 2!]

December 15, 2011

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Describe it

In its story of the idle, hedonistic elite, it expresses the anxieties of the modern age – the passing of the old world, the new roles of the sexes, and man’s loss of faith in God, in ideals, in himself. Read it.

What I loved

The spare beauty and vigour of Hemingway’s prose. The strength of an active sentence, the power of that perfect verb.

It made me want to dance and drink whisky in Paris, and fish and drink wine chilled in a mountain stream in the mountains of Spain, and see a bullfight and drink from a wine skin in Pamploma. To say damn this and damn that, and “What a lot of rot” and “To hell with you, Lady Ashley.” Read the rest of this entry »

Green Hills of Africa – Ernest Hemingway

January 12, 2011

Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway

Green Hills of Africa has aged as gracefully as its diabetic, alcoholic, suicidal author did.  Firstly, it’s all about big game hunting: Hemingway and his wife and his mates tramp around Africa blowing away lions, rhinos, cheetahs and anything else that moves, presumably so the animal’s dismembered body parts can make a nice conversation piece in their living rooms.

Secondly, it’s all about manly men doing manly men things, with the only significant female character being Hemingway’s wife, Pauline Marie Pfeiffer, referred to as P.O.M. (don’t ask me to explain the acronym).  And while she is tenacious – tenacious enough, in fact, to make old Papa liken her to a “terrier”, which she understandably objects to – she is usually relegated to the role of cheer squad in Hemingway’s war against African Bambi’s mother.

And thirdly, Hemingway’s use of native trackers and porters to carry his trophies and eskies of beer has more than a whiff of colonialism and is the kind of unequal economic relationship that makes people very, very uncomfortable nowadays.

But to hell with all of that.  Green Hills of Africa proves that a good author can make any subject interesting, even one that you previously had an aversion to.  It’s also a memoir, meaning that it’s full of insights into man himself that Hemingway tragics like me can slaver over. Read the rest of this entry »

Across the River and Into the Trees – Ernest Hemingway

April 20, 2010

Review by Gabriel

Across the River and into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway

It’s hard to say one of your favourite authors has written an average novel.  After finishing For Whom the Bell Tolls, I thought I’d go on a Hemingway binge, hoping to encounter the same level of genius, and because there is something comforting about his simple, dynamic prose and hard-boiled characters.  Across the River and Into the Trees was disappointing enough to halt my binge just as it was getting started.  Here’s why Read the rest of this entry »