Category: Louis-Ferdinand Celine

book of books – journey to the end of the night


This book by Louis-Ferdinand Celine is the first part of a couple of autobiographical works that according to the dust jacket shocked readers, particularly in the US, because of the gritty portrayal of life. Presumably what they were interested by was the sexual elements of the story but there is something deeper going on here and it is a typical French literary experience because what you come away with is not necessarily a story but a mood. To experience Celine is like Camus and Sartre something that makes you think about how you feel rather than just empathising with how people acted.

The context
The story follows a medical student who enlists in the first world war, discovers he is a bit of a coward and then opts out of the conflict by going through a series of asylums and then in the end meets and breaks off a relationship with a woman. That then becomes a pattern for the book that even when things appear to be going well he has a pessimistic outlook on life and sure enough things go wrong, mainly because he ensures they do. Throughout the multiple locations of the book, France, Africa and the USA, the main character Ferdinand is ghosted by Leon Robinson who keeps turning up. Although Ferdinand starts to fear and hate him in the end with Robinson gone he is at a loss to know what to do next with his life.

is it well written?
it is not an easy read, but that is not necessarily because of the style, it is more about the reaction a reader used to experiencing a straight forward narrative might have to these wandering series of events. It is obviously a foreign book that has been translated and that probably has an influence on the text. It is a book that does not have the power of something like the Outsider by Camus or Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre because the mood is sometimes obviously broken by the leading character rather than there being a consistent environment that leads to a breaking/changing point. This reminds you if anything of The Fall by Camus with someone talking about different anecdotes to tell a life story. It is hard to judge if it is well written but it is certainly not something that can be easily read.

Is it worth reading?
Not an instant answer to this one. Certainly it links into other works of literature and the Africa that Celine describes is echoed in the Africa of Conrad in The Heart of Darkness (my next weeks reading choice) and for that reason it should be a stepping stone as part of a process of reading the classics. One of the problems with a book like this that includes a character with relatively loose sexual morals is that for its time it was probably disturbing and provocative but now it is no longer shocking and rather seedy and disappointing and you end up agreeing with Madelone when she describes Ferdinand as a dirty beast. The story doesn’t necessarily translate across the decades as well as some others.

Leads to
In my case because of the power of the images of colonial rule that part of the tale is going to lead to reading more about Africa in the form of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Graham Greene’s A burnt-out case. It should also lead to other French writers including as already mentioned in particular Albert Camus.

Version read – New Directions paperbook

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book of books – journey to the end of the night


This book by Louis-Ferdinand Celine is the first part of a couple of autobiographical works that according to the dust jacket shocked readers, particularly in the US, because of the gritty portrayal of life. Presumably what they were interested by was the sexual elements of the story but there is something deeper going on here and it is a typical French literary experience because what you come away with is not necessarily a story but a mood. To experience Celine is like Camus and Sartre something that makes you think about how you feel rather than just empathising with how people acted.

The context
The story follows a medical student who enlists in the first world war, discovers he is a bit of a coward and then opts out of the conflict by going through a series of asylums and then in the end meets and breaks off a relationship with a woman. That then becomes a pattern for the book that even when things appear to be going well he has a pessimistic outlook on life and sure enough things go wrong, mainly because he ensures they do. Throughout the multiple locations of the book, France, Africa and the USA, the main character Ferdinand is ghosted by Leon Robinson who keeps turning up. Although Ferdinand starts to fear and hate him in the end with Robinson gone he is at a loss to know what to do next with his life.

is it well written?
it is not an easy read, but that is not necessarily because of the style, it is more about the reaction a reader used to experiencing a straight forward narrative might have to these wandering series of events. It is obviously a foreign book that has been translated and that probably has an influence on the text. It is a book that does not have the power of something like the Outsider by Camus or Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre because the mood is sometimes obviously broken by the leading character rather than there being a consistent environment that leads to a breaking/changing point. This reminds you if anything of The Fall by Camus with someone talking about different anecdotes to tell a life story. It is hard to judge if it is well written but it is certainly not something that can be easily read.

Is it worth reading?
Not an instant answer to this one. Certainly it links into other works of literature and the Africa that Celine describes is echoed in the Africa of Conrad in The Heart of Darkness (my next weeks reading choice) and for that reason it should be a stepping stone as part of a process of reading the classics. One of the problems with a book like this that includes a character with relatively loose sexual morals is that for its time it was probably disturbing and provocative but now it is no longer shocking and rather seedy and disappointing and you end up agreeing with Madelone when she describes Ferdinand as a dirty beast. The story doesn’t necessarily translate across the decades as well as some others.

Leads to
In my case because of the power of the images of colonial rule that part of the tale is going to lead to reading more about Africa in the form of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Graham Greene’s A burnt-out case. It should also lead to other French writers including as already mentioned in particular Albert Camus.

Version read – New Directions paperbook

book of books – journey to the end of the night


This book by Louis-Ferdinand Celine is the first part of a couple of autobiographical works that according to the dust jacket shocked readers, particularly in the US, because of the gritty portrayal of life. Presumably what they were interested by was the sexual elements of the story but there is something deeper going on here and it is a typical French literary experience because what you come away with is not necessarily a story but a mood. To experience Celine is like Camus and Sartre something that makes you think about how you feel rather than just empathising with how people acted.

The context
The story follows a medical student who enlists in the first world war, discovers he is a bit of a coward and then opts out of the conflict by going through a series of asylums and then in the end meets and breaks off a relationship with a woman. That then becomes a pattern for the book that even when things appear to be going well he has a pessimistic outlook on life and sure enough things go wrong, mainly because he ensures they do. Throughout the multiple locations of the book, France, Africa and the USA, the main character Ferdinand is ghosted by Leon Robinson who keeps turning up. Although Ferdinand starts to fear and hate him in the end with Robinson gone he is at a loss to know what to do next with his life.

is it well written?
it is not an easy read, but that is not necessarily because of the style, it is more about the reaction a reader used to experiencing a straight forward narrative might have to these wandering series of events. It is obviously a foreign book that has been translated and that probably has an influence on the text. It is a book that does not have the power of something like the Outsider by Camus or Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre because the mood is sometimes obviously broken by the leading character rather than there being a consistent environment that leads to a breaking/changing point. This reminds you if anything of The Fall by Camus with someone talking about different anecdotes to tell a life story. It is hard to judge if it is well written but it is certainly not something that can be easily read.

Is it worth reading?
Not an instant answer to this one. Certainly it links into other works of literature and the Africa that Celine describes is echoed in the Africa of Conrad in The Heart of Darkness (my next weeks reading choice) and for that reason it should be a stepping stone as part of a process of reading the classics. One of the problems with a book like this that includes a character with relatively loose sexual morals is that for its time it was probably disturbing and provocative but now it is no longer shocking and rather seedy and disappointing and you end up agreeing with Madelone when she describes Ferdinand as a dirty beast. The story doesn’t necessarily translate across the decades as well as some others.

Leads to
In my case because of the power of the images of colonial rule that part of the tale is going to lead to reading more about Africa in the form of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Graham Greene’s A burnt-out case. It should also lead to other French writers including as already mentioned in particular Albert Camus.

Version read – New Directions paperbook

Journey to the end of the night post IV

A sense of resigned depression has started to seep through the story with the monotony of being a dirt cheap doctor undermining Ferdinand’s ability to make firm decisions like dropping Robinson and leaving Rancy.

Bullet points from pages 291 – 395

* Robinson is very much back on the scene but Ferdinand is desperate for him to leave

* His patient Bebert dies and his involvement with the Henrouille family drags on with the old woman boasting of how her son and daughter-in-law failed to get her sent to a convent or asylum

* Robinson hooks up with the Henrouilles and they build a rabbit hutch and then plan to put a bomb on the hutch and wait for the old woman to open it. The bomb is triggered by a rabbit as Robinson is fitting it and it blinds him

* Laid up in the top floor of the Henrouille’s house eventually they hire the services of a priest who gets him a job in a church crypt in Toulouse and so Robinson heads South

* With Robinson gone Ferdinand expects an improvement in fortunes but when it doesn’?t come he decides to depart once and for all from Rancy and head off for new pastures

* It seems that everyone Ferdinand treats as a doctor ends up dying with Mr Henrouille dying of heart failure joining Bebert abd several other former patients. There is a beautifully described moment when Ferdinand sees some of these dead patients as ghosts floating as angels

* Having quit Rancy he drifts around, striking up a relationship with a Polish actress, but after meeting the priest who set Robinson and Senior Mrs Henrouille up with jobs in Toulouse he gets 1,500 francs and promises to go and see them

* Robinson is getting married and although Ferdinand has a bit of fun with his fiance he admits to himself he is jealous

With Robinson settling down and the ties in Rancy well and truly cut you wonder where is Ferdinand going next?

Journey to the end of the night post IV

A sense of resigned depression has started to seep through the story with the monotony of being a dirt cheap doctor undermining Ferdinand’s ability to make firm decisions like dropping Robinson and leaving Rancy.

Bullet points from pages 291 – 395

* Robinson is very much back on the scene but Ferdinand is desperate for him to leave

* His patient Bebert dies and his involvement with the Henrouille family drags on with the old woman boasting of how her son and daughter-in-law failed to get her sent to a convent or asylum

* Robinson hooks up with the Henrouilles and they build a rabbit hutch and then plan to put a bomb on the hutch and wait for the old woman to open it. The bomb is triggered by a rabbit as Robinson is fitting it and it blinds him

* Laid up in the top floor of the Henrouille’s house eventually they hire the services of a priest who gets him a job in a church crypt in Toulouse and so Robinson heads South

* With Robinson gone Ferdinand expects an improvement in fortunes but when it doesn’?t come he decides to depart once and for all from Rancy and head off for new pastures

* It seems that everyone Ferdinand treats as a doctor ends up dying with Mr Henrouille dying of heart failure joining Bebert abd several other former patients. There is a beautifully described moment when Ferdinand sees some of these dead patients as ghosts floating as angels

* Having quit Rancy he drifts around, striking up a relationship with a Polish actress, but after meeting the priest who set Robinson and Senior Mrs Henrouille up with jobs in Toulouse he gets 1,500 francs and promises to go and see them

* Robinson is getting married and although Ferdinand has a bit of fun with his fiance he admits to himself he is jealous

With Robinson settling down and the ties in Rancy well and truly cut you wonder where is Ferdinand going next?

Journey to the end of the night post III

After having the first couple of hundred pages shared between a couple of locations – France and Africa – things change more rapidly and Ferdinand goes across America and back to France much more quickly.

Bullet points from pages 192 – 290

Having arrived in New York and escaped from his obligations on Ellis Island he drifts around the town looking for Lola and Robinson

He eventually finds Lola and in a bitter exchange manages to get $100 off her but at the cost of their friendship

Armed with the money he boards a train for Detroit and gets a job at the Ford factory

After regularly visting a brothel he strikes up a relationship with a prostitute who loves him but accepts that he is a wandering soul and can’t keep him from going back to France

Robinson turns up again wanted by the Police for using dodgy papers and he is also upset when Ferdinand heads back to France

Once back in France he completes his studies and qualifies as a doctor and sets up a practice in a poor suburb where he rarely gets paid and ends up giving out free advice

Things start to fall apart as a young patient, Bebert, catches typhoid and as he worsens so Ferdinand starts to plan to leave Rancy and move on

Robinson, or at least the fear of meeting him, causes Ferdinand great anxiety and is the cause of his change of mind and disgust with his situation

You are left wondering where he will go next of Bebert dies and he leaves Rancy. It has crept up on you but all of a sudden you care about this character and wonder what will happen next…

Journey to the end of the night post III

After having the first couple of hundred pages shared between a couple of locations – France and Africa – things change more rapidly and Ferdinand goes across America and back to France much more quickly.

Bullet points from pages 192 – 290

Having arrived in New York and escaped from his obligations on Ellis Island he drifts around the town looking for Lola and Robinson

He eventually finds Lola and in a bitter exchange manages to get $100 off her but at the cost of their friendship

Armed with the money he boards a train for Detroit and gets a job at the Ford factory

After regularly visting a brothel he strikes up a relationship with a prostitute who loves him but accepts that he is a wandering soul and can’t keep him from going back to France

Robinson turns up again wanted by the Police for using dodgy papers and he is also upset when Ferdinand heads back to France

Once back in France he completes his studies and qualifies as a doctor and sets up a practice in a poor suburb where he rarely gets paid and ends up giving out free advice

Things start to fall apart as a young patient, Bebert, catches typhoid and as he worsens so Ferdinand starts to plan to leave Rancy and move on

Robinson, or at least the fear of meeting him, causes Ferdinand great anxiety and is the cause of his change of mind and disgust with his situation

You are left wondering where he will go next of Bebert dies and he leaves Rancy. It has crept up on you but all of a sudden you care about this character and wonder what will happen next…