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

Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
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M 50x66
's review
Feb 03, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: europe, world-literature-top-100

This is the famous French fictional autobiographical novel of Louis-Ferdinand Celine written between the World Wars in 1933. It is a book classed amongst the top 100 of world literature. Celine has his own remarkable history much like the novel but one reason perhaps he is not better known is that he turned out to collaborate with Vichy France/German and showed himself a fascist (leading to a year in prison after the WW2).

Well this is the story of Ferdinand Bardarnu, a journalist who joins up quickly to fight in WW1 in 1914. After some warring and existential interaction with officers etc, he relatively quickly gets to meet Leon Robinson, both endeavouring to get captured by the Germans they part; but the pairing is the driving force of the story. Ferdinand gets hospitalised and is clearly suffering mentally which impacts on his relationships with Lola and then Musyne in Paris. Basically I think from here on he's paranoid and a somewhat challenging person. He gets himself a new job and leaves on a ship to French north Africa (fictionally called Bambola) to escape his and his country's ills. In some a what "Heart of Darkness" way he ends up at a coca frontier trading post replacing Robinson; who in turns runs off with the cash. Jungle illnesses take their toll and Ferdinand decides to follow Robinson's footsteps to America. He needs a job an starts work in the Detroit Car industry - he lives on Cinema. This is where the cover back-notes get you to in the story but they use the word `finally' but this might lead you astray as this is still less than half the book. For he meets the person he should stay for, Molly, but his self-destruction (and his later fateful meeting of Robinson again) sends him away back home. The final half of the story from now is less mental journey more physical journey (I do mean that way round) for the real detail of his life and job as a doctor kick in. Robinson and their mutual girlfriends carry them to the book's conclusion - so much then happens to its end twenty years on. Motives, murder, adultery, death, illness and so on.

This is really a remarkable book. It is existential, poignant, lyrical, charismatic and pessimistic. Ferdinand is not a very nice person - damaged you might say. Robinson is worse and I think mirrors Ferdinand as his personified mental baggage of war.

Here are some quotes:

"There is no rest for the humble except despising the great, whose only thought of the people is inspired by self-interest or sadism"

"He had the intellectual's vice: he was futile"

"When there's no risk attached to hating people, stupidity quickly discovers conviction; motives spring up ready-made.

"Fatigue and solitude bring out God's image in man"

"There is an end to everything. It is not always death, it's often something else and a good deal worse, particularly in the case of children"

"Try as I might to lose my way, so as not to find myself face to face with my own life, I kept coming up against it everywhere. I met myself at every turn."

So overall I'd recommend this book. There are occasional references to "night" all the time which make the whole novel sad and dark. But at the end it does have a really good story. The somewhat meandering first half leads to the finale of a second half all held together with existential, torn angst. I'm surprised that it doesn't appear to be currently in print.
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