The hive by Camilo Jose Cela

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The hive


The Hive by Camilo Jose Cela

Spanish fiction

Original title –  La Colmena

Translator – J M Cohen in consultation with Arturo Bare

Source – Personal copy

A few years ago I reviewed another book by the Late Nobel-winning Spanish writer Camilo Jose Cela and had since then want to try him again so when I recently found this second-hand edition it struck me a perfect choice for Spanish lit month. When the book first came out due to a number of sexual or erotic scenes in the book it was banned in Spain due to the strict censors at the time and first published in Argentina.

Dona Rosa comes and goes between the cafe tables, bumping into the custmers with her enormus backside. Dona Rosa her cafe is the world, and everything else revolves around the cafe. Some people claim that Dona Rosa’s little eyes begin to sparkle when spring comes and the girls go short sleeves. I think this is sheer gossip; for nothing in the world would Dona rosa ever sacrifice a solid five-peseta piece, spring or no spring.

 I loved the image of Dona Rosa the heart of the cafe in he story .

The hive is the best description for this story it is like cutting into a beehive, except the beehive is the city of Madrid it is December 1943 and this captures a few days in the city and  a small corner of the city is told from a small cafe in the city its owner  Dona Rosa is the cafe owner nd the story flies out from the guest and into the nearby Brothel and men looking for women like Don Pablo, dodgy businessmen and the jobless this is the city a few years after the Spanish civil war, the wounds simmer under the surface here . This is a book that buzzes as we meet the 300 plus character that appears in the seven chapters of the book some appear in a line others slid through the book mainly Dona Rosa her cafe it the beating heart of this book a place for gossip, meeting, romance or even just to waste time.

The young man who is writing verse licks his pencil and stares at the ceiling.He is one of those poets who writes poems with “Ideas”. This afternoon he has his idea but not yet his rhymes. He has got a few down on paper. What he is looking form is something to rhyme with streem, which must neither seemnor team. He is turining and redeem and gleam round in his mind.

“I’m shut up in a stupid armour, in the shell of a common clod. The girl with the deep blue eyes.. But I want to be strong,more than strong

A poet crops up and I wonder if he is the young Cela putting himself in the story.

Sometimes a city is captured at the perfect moment in a book. Dublin by Joyce in Ulysses, Havana by Infante’s three trapped tigers, Istanbul by Pamuk. This seems to capture a post-war world of Madrid a city getting used to life under Franco. But also the darker side of life in a city the brothels, affairs and fighting. This is a book full of clever observation of human life and human nature the humdrum world in full technicolour as we shine a light over the dark streets. Unlike Joyce and the others there is no main figure in the book no this is a collection of voices situations most just like you’ve walked past them a mere snippet leaving you at times to fill in the gaps of the  stories or what happened next this could have lead to a lot of follow-on stories about the characters here. Note not my cover mine is a sceptre edition, but I liked this old ace cover

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Jul 10, 2017 @ 20:14:56

    Fabulous cover and the book sounds fascinating!


  2. wordnerd2017 - Sally Barclay
    Jul 10, 2017 @ 21:44:12

    I am currently enjoying this in Spanish. Even the pace of the book reminds me of a long slow summer in Madrid.


  3. Richard
    Jul 11, 2017 @ 02:56:26

    It’s been a while since I read this, Stu, but I remember really loving the mosaic/beehive style storytelling fragmentation and the humor so sorely lacking in Cela’s The Family of Pascual Duarte (humor lacking for obvious reasons in that book). I forget whether you’ve read Luis Martín-Santos’ Time of Silence or not. If not, I suggest it for a great follow-up to Cela’s novel if you can find it.


  4. Romy Paris
    Jul 11, 2017 @ 04:10:00

    One of my favorites and often reread. If you’re looking for other “Beehive” novels I suggest Vasco Pratolini’s “The Tale of Two Poor Lovers” with a scene change to Florence.


  5. Deepika Ramesh
    Jul 11, 2017 @ 07:14:54

    This sounds lovely. I like the name Dona Rosa too.


  6. Lisa Hill
    Jul 11, 2017 @ 09:22:39

    I like that cover too,. it’s like those racy Elek editions of Zola’s books.


  7. BookerTalk
    Jul 11, 2017 @ 20:45:15

    That cover is so retro and atmospheric.


  8. Lara Alonso Corona
    Jul 16, 2017 @ 10:51:17

    Funnily enough this book was mandatory reading in my high school in spain (in retrospect that was a bit wild, considering some of the content). I remember I liked it when I was a teenager, despite not having liked any other Cela book before or since.


  9. Trackback: That was the month was July 2017 | Winstonsdad's Blog
  10. Claire 'Word by Word'
    Aug 01, 2017 @ 19:41:45

    An interesting cover indeed! Sounds like this was a good choice of a novel of his to read.


  11. Jeppe Lundberg
    Nov 08, 2017 @ 13:03:25

    Where can I buy this version of the book?? love the cover


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July 2017


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