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

Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
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Sep 30, 12

Recommended for: Teenagers that just don't give a fuck; Fans of Burroughs and Jim Morrison (probably also teenagers)
Read in January, 2008

Fifteen years of sitting on my bookshelves and I finally get around to reading it. This is a little bit sad, because I would have loved this book fifteen years ago, when I believed bitter misanthropy and self-indulgent misery were the only true lenses through which humanity should be viewed. Of course, I was in high school at the time (and it was boarding school at that),so that explained it.

At age thirty-two, Journey to the End of the Night set somewhat differently with me. Ferdinand Bardamu's miserable picaresque travails seem more absurd than sympathetic. I read him as foolish and vain and naive, inclined to rattle off world-weary grand pronouncements about the state of civilization. The sort of nihilist one-liners you might expect to find scrawled on the back of a bathroom door in the French Department at your local state university. I'm not entirely sure whether Celine intended his narrator to be a humorous character. Maybe he did. But the overarching, unmitigated darkness and misery of the book is so one-note after about page 100, I found myself wondering whether if it wasn't some elaborate prank, a self-satire. And every now and then, I would get a hint of this. Bardamu's Kafka-esque journey to Africa (during which he manages to incur the wrath of every other person on the ship, for no reason, and barely escapes capital punishment at the hands of a vigilante posse headed up by evil women). His journey out of Africa in the throes of malarial hallucinations (by far, my favorite part of the book . . . I had such high hopes when the Princess of Spain showed up) and subsequent job as a flea-counter at Ellis Island. And the ever-elusive Robinson.

What's frustrating is that parts of this book were brilliant. The language was frequently stunning. Some of the secondary characters were memorable. And maybe it's just that I've grown jaded (though not as jaded as Bardamu) with age. Celine's influence has been substantial. Sartre, Kerouac, Heller, Vonnegut, Robbe-Grillet, Burroughs, and Bukowski count him as a significant influence. And I've read those authors. I even like a couple of them (though Burroughs and Kerouac are two of the most overrated authors in the history of literature and Bukowski is, simply, a complete fucking joke . . . more on that later). Maybe it's just that having read all that followed, I am no longer able to appreciate the "genius" of the original. Or perhaps that's better expressed this way:

A lot of what is good about Journey to the End of the Night is better when Beckett writes it.




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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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Khosro A bit harsh on Celine but I so much agree your last line (and even more with you on Kerouac and Burroughs)


Tony Very well put.


Benjamin You’ve made very wide generalization – put all the people who likes Morrison and Celine in to one basket with teenagers.
This is a god book and written not only for «who gives a fuck» 8-)
Obviously, the author didn’t loved the mankind too much. Neither had he liked women very much.
But would you agree that there is no much reasons to love the mankind or you suppose that misanthropy ( I’m not saying – cynicism) is a some kind of disease ?
The problem of Celine is that he considered that dark part of life in which he lived as the whole. Maybe just because the access for good part of life was never opened for him. Maybe that wasn’t even his fault. We still hadn’t create the utopia yet. So there is no surprise.
Nevertheless - Celine did a perfect job in his work – he described that bitter part of society very-very well and with a bit of good humor.


Ploppy Bardamu's "nihilism" (a dangerous word) is not result of some voluntary detachment from humanity but the effects of what has happened to him, the war first of all. Pay close attention to certain passages in the book, most notably when he talks about Alcide (in Africa) and his relationship with a prostitute in New York. The narrator is aware of the fact that there is good, even love, and he gradually becomes aware of the fact that he is unable to feel these things. Look at the end, when [SPOILER ALERT] Robinson dies. This is not banal don't give a fuck teenage crap. Keep in mind that although this novel is semi-autographical, author and narrator are two different entities, so the narrator's "grand statements" on humanity are the result of his personnality, and Céline like many authors who write in the first person can subtly mock his own narrator.
And since when has absurdity been criticism? Of course Robinson's constant reappearances are completely unrealistic, of course this novel is exaggerated and bombastic (which makes your comparison with Beckett rather displaced I find).


Ploppy And you only vaguely allude to what makes this book readable in the first place: its unique humour amidst the blackness.


Hans-christian I see. It must be difficult to grasp for someone who is not from decadent old Europe that this book is intentionally bleak AND angry AND funny.


message 7: by Micael (new) - added it

Micael I totally agree with Benjamin.


message 8: by SootyF (new)

SootyF I'm totally with you on that misanthropic teenager thing. These days I'm no longer able to say that I actually *enjoy* reading Sartre, the very same Sartre who was my French literature text of choice when we were doing translations at university, the same Sartre I used to think of as my alter ego... Funny how things change. Now it's Celine tour, and I suspect my reaction won't be any different.


message 9: by T (new) - added it

T I had a friend in high school who read Hardy because he thought the miserable events in the characters lives were hilarious and absurd. Jude the Obscure? A scream. Tess of the D'Oubervilles? Hilarious. I admire him still.


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