RandomAnthony's Reviews > Journey to the End of the Night

Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
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Aug 09, 2010

it was amazing
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Celine’s Journey to the End of Night is a towering achievement in literary observation through a narrator incapable of self-delusion and a less than stringent filter between his thoughts and his audience. Plus, it’s funny as hell.

The novel reads as the author’s travelogue through war-torn Europe, remote Africa, industrialized America, and post-war France. I have no idea how much of Journey to the End of Night is factual and how much is fiction, and I don’t care either way. At points Celine sounds like a depraved Jonathan Swift but just as often functions as a spiritual ancestor of Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He riffs on everything from dreary Detroit factories to over-the-top descriptions of African tribal life. He transcends the easy lure of exotic locales by focusing on human relationships in all their debauched, fugacious forms. You know how when people say things like, “oh, people are generally good”? Celine would, ahem, disagree. He’s not mindlessly misanthropic; you get the feeling that if he could find evidence of pure-heartedness (and he thinks children have a shot) he would report it, but he’s not going to lie to make you feel better (unless he does, but then he’ll chastise himself later). In turn, he ditches the subtle narrative convention of “happy endings” (not the kind you get on the side of the interstate, but my guess is Celine would have no problem visiting that type of establishment) and instead wanders through myriad landscapes, especially focusing on the subcultures of the poor and twisted. He’s not their champion, and he’s not going to paint either a pastoral picture of simple poverty or portray the neighborhood residents as mindless animals, but if he had to deviate from the mean he’d probably lean toward the latter. Celine is a master at characterizing the absolute insanity of, for example, war. Instead of singing gentle folk songs against military action he addresses the insane expectation of his military leaders to dodge German bullets in the middle of French farmland roads. And his wide-eyed perceptions of the depths of humanity are more insightful than ponderous. If Celine is trying to teach you a lesson it’s that most human beings are scratching together an existence day to day, keeping their bones and body intact, searching after base pleasures, and really, kind of messed up. People aren’t to blame for this: Journey isn’t a self-help guide (unless, um, you’re looking to seduce French women). But lest I sound as if this book is 344 pages of depressing observation after depressing observation, Celine finds the humor and objectivity to step outside the masquerade and in turn possibly transcend artifice, even for a little while. And although Celine doesn’t equate that transcendence with morality, and might mock me mercilessly for even mentioning the possibility, by acknowledging human need and darkness in all its plain, everyday forms one takes the first step in becoming something other than what some might perceive is the inevitable norm. Celine, for all his misanthropy, carries hope.

I needed close to four weeks to finish off this book; I read slowly and carefully and after some sessions felt exhilarated and exhausted. Don’t give up if after the first twenty pages you think this book will be primarily about Celine’s stretch in the French military. He moves out of his war narration fairly quickly. I also understand that the author was a real-life asshole. I can’t speak for that. His novel stands among the best and most original I have ever read. Journey to the End of the Night, a dark classic of the highest caliber, is a whirlwind of psychological investigation, frenzied comedy, and fascinating discourse on human nature.
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Reading Progress

05/06/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Kimley (new) - added it

Kimley You're rereading this right? I'm curious how it will hold up. I so loved this when I was 18.

RandomAnthony I had read the first half or so a long time ago, Kimley...I'm really loving it this time around, but it's slow going, harder to read than I remember, or maybe just the late summer heat is slowing me down...

message 3: by David (new)

David Wow. You don't give out many five stars, Shafer. You must mean business.

RandomAnthony David, I think you'd dig this book. I'm afraid of elevating your expectations sky-high, you know how that goes, you don't want to tell someone a book is so great that the novel can never live up to the hype, but this one is right up your alley in a good way.

Eddie Watkins Good stuff, RA.

message 6: by smetchie (new)

smetchie Wow. Great Review, RA.

message 7: by RandomAnthony (last edited Aug 31, 2010 04:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

RandomAnthony Thanks, Eddie and Gretchen...now I'm going to read a YA novel about the mysterious new girl at school. I need something, ahem, lighter.

Jackie "the Librarian" I'd never heard of this book before, RA, and you're review makes me want to read it.
I liked this:

If Celine is trying to teach you a lesson it’s that most human beings are scratching together an existence day to day, keeping their bones and body intact, searching after base pleasures, and really, kind of messed up.

I think he's right. Half the time I don't know what I'm doing.
Of course, the other half of my time is planned out, but that's me...

message 9: by Hundeschlitten (new)

Hundeschlitten I'll make it a third "wow" from the peanut gallery. I think you've found your true vocation, RA. At the very least, someone should be paying you for this.

RandomAnthony I don't think Celine made lists and checked off items as he went on, so there's still hope for you, librarian...

And thanks, Jimmy! I take back what I said about you being a Calvinist. And, unlike Paul, I think your torso is decidedly awesome.

message 11: by Matthieu (last edited Sep 16, 2010 04:42PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matthieu Robinson...

RandomAnthony Heh, thanks, John, perfect environment for reading Celine:)

message 13: by Dan (new)

Dan Good review - I loved it when I was recommended reading it by a French student at Hull University and even recommended it to my best friends. I was lucky enough for my best friend to buy me the sequel, Death On The Installment plan for my birthday (equally as grisly as Parisian women die while clutching their last sous.) A brilliant book and thanks for reinvigourating it in my brain!!!!

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