Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Journey to the End of the Night - Louis-Ferdinand Celine

Louis Ferdinant Celine's 1932 masterpiece 'Journey to the end of the Night' is one of the nihilistic novel I've read. A semi-auto biographic account of him told through a first person narrative, he has a pessimistic view of the human nature.  Ferdinand BArdamu, his alter ego, narrates his journey through the war stricken Europe during WWI, where he participated trying escape the war in verious pretexts , faking injuries or madness. Escaping the war, sailing to colonial Africa, his fate wasn't different. All he could see was the inhuman values and general apathy of the human situation. Esacping from one of the remotest jungles of Africa, we see him re-surfacing in US, where he eventually work as an apprentice at the Ford factory in Detroit. Unable to survive the life in US, he returns to France , post the war and start his medical practice in a Paris suburb. As is his fate, he is not able ot make it big. While the rest of the doctors made fortune, had their own houses and cars, Bardamu is contemned to lead a life similar to the patients whom he attend to. Living in constant poverty, he was often delivered service with no payments.

The book is not greatly plot driven. I has a free flow of human experience, mostly on the dark side, through the turbulent period of WWI to the great depression.  The anti-hero Ferdinand Bardamu supposed to be derived from Celine's own experience ( in Africa and in Detroit) , and his shadow companion Léon Robinson epitome of all the bad qualities, which Bardamu is unable to carry himself. The extreme pessimistic view of the human conditions in its full vigour. The cruelty, the revenge, the vulgarity , its helplessness, cowardice, murder, decease , death, attack, isolation, you name it, all those negative elements are in full view. While Bardamu is the observer through out the journey, it is Robinson, that is the action man. From their initial encounter during one of the night guard work of Bardamu during his WWI days, Robinson was in his life either directly of as an influence. Appearing at various intervals of his life, Robinson seemed to be the executing all that Bardamu is incapable of doing. Robinson was in Africa before Bardamu and he escaped through the jungle, paving way for Bardamu. They met in the US, and later Robinson followed Bardamu to Paris.

The book is not an easy read. However, it is as near as possible to the human experience, albeit on a negative side. I understand the language is fluid and natural in French. May be it is no so evident in the English translation. A novel that sets the benchmark in the 20th century literature and supposed to have defied the traditional style and wisdom of writing. The initial 100 odd pages were phenomenal as I went through the pages. It started getting a bit heavy as it progressed as the continued negative emotion and the cynical humour hits you hard. You start labouring through these pages. Even though, one can not stop admiring his writing and the control over the language.

May be intended, but the protagonist is boring and very seldom you connect with him. However, most of the peripheral characters are brilliant and colorful. The journey into the night, the darkness of human existence is not an easy one to go through. The absurdity, the existentialist tendency, the loss of virtue and such heavy and intense feeling comes to one's mind as you finish the long book. Here is one writer, who influenced a whole generation of writers with his style and writing.

Journey to the End of the Night ( 1932)

Louis-Ferdinand Celine ( translated from French by Ralph Manheim 1966)

Oneworld Classics

418 Pages


Miguel said...

Sounds a lot like a few novels I've read by António Lobo Antunes. I've been dying to read this classic novel. Thanks for the review.

Jayan Parameswaran said...

I've read only Inquisitors Manual, that book does not compare with Celine in any way.

This is pretty good in style and language. But it's laborious and negativism through out.