To a certain extent, it is misleading to claim Martín Marco as the novel’s principal protagonist, for The Hive contains nearly three hundred fictional characters. Camilo José Cela’s unflattering, but clear-eyed, depiction of Madrid as a stagnant hive of listless, desperate, immoral activity in the years immediately following the victory of Franco’s Fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) garnered him no end of trouble with the official censors. As a result, the book’s publication was delayed by five years (it was first published in Argentina). Four decades later, this work, along with such other important Cela novels as La familia de Pascual Duarte(1942; The Family of Pascual Duarte, 1946, 1964), Mrs. Caldwell habla con su hijo(1953; Mrs. Caldwell Speaks to Her Son, 1968), and Vísperas, festividad y octava de San Camilo del año 1936 en Madrid(1969; San Camilo, 1936, 1991), contributed to his selection as the 1989 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and his reputation as one of Spain’s most influential postwar authors.
By turn vulgar and comic, somber and hopeful, The Hive exhibits little respect for conventional narrative sequence. Instead, it consists of more than two hundred short vignettes that leap from setting to setting and from character to character over a five- or six-day period. The nonchronological flow of the six chapters and short final section, as well as the considerable repetition and overlapping of episodes, reinforces the sense of inertia, both spiritual and economic, that plagues the residents of the city. With a cessation of the hostilities that so brutalized the soul of their nation only a few years earlier, they are hoping for a better life. Heat and food are, however, in short supply in the winter of 1943, and nearly all the major characters in the novel suffer from...
(The entire section is 779 words.)