Tuesday, January 10, 2006

2. Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Journey pictureI wish I could say I had read this in french, but then I would probably be posting this in the middle of the summer. The translation is a bit stilted and kept me a bit distant from the material and I can just tell that in french it's probably even more ferocious. My dad recommended it to me. I guess it had a strong impact on him when he was a young man. It's basically the life of a poor but educated french guy in the early twentieth century. The story takes him through the horror and disillusionment of the first world war, to work in french colonial Africa then as a doctor in poor, suburban Paris and finally as an assistant to the administrator of an insane asylum.

It's one of these books where the plot isn't all that important. From the introduction, this book caused quite a stir when it was published in France before the second world war. You can see why. He just tears apart everything that the french consider sacred and important. It starts with the war, which he sees as basically thousands of mindless maniacs desperate for killing each other or being killed, but he goes on. And he has the most hilarious language, really classic french stuff where he waxes for pages on about sex or the rich and then makes a quick comment about the quality of the wine he had access to at that point.

Here is a good example:
Speaking of families, I know a chemist on the Avenue de Saint-Ouen who had a marvellous sign in his window, a lovely advertisement: One bottle (price three francs) will purge the whole family Isn't that great! They all belch!... and shit together, family-wise. They hate one another's guts, the essence of home life, but no one complains because after all it's cheaper than living in a hotel.

There is a lot of that kind of stuff. Very dark and entertaining. There is a lot of truth in it, but I'm not sure if 400 pages of that, and a lot of meandering is so effective. Perhaps for the time, the intensity of such an angry message, obviated other editorial concerns. I found myself getting distracted at certain points. I will admit that I am a slave to the narrative and a babe nursing at the teat of resolution. I get distracted easily. Still, I wish more people were writing with this kind of anger and conviction about the situation we live in today. Hmmm...

No comments: