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London Bridge: Guignol's Band II (French Literature) [Paperback]

Louis-ferdinand Céline , Dominic Di Bernardi
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

25 Sep 2009 French Literature
In this widely acclaimed translation, Dominic DiBernardi expertly captures Celine's trademark style of prose which has served as inspiration to such American writers as Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Norman Mailer and Joseph Heller.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (25 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781564781758
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564781758
  • ASIN: 1564781755
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 2.5 x 22.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,440,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The importance of the translator. 11 May 2006
Format:Paperback
This edition of London Bridge is part two of Guignol's Band but, whereas the widely available edition of part one was translated by Ralph Manhiem, London Bridge wasn't. For anyone familiar with Celine in the translations of Manheim they will miss not only the wonderful rhythm of the language but the dark humour and beauty which is evident in so many passages, even - or especially - in the most hysterical and rabid passages. The present translator of London Bridge, Dominic Di Bernadi, is unable to match the fluidity of Manheim's translation and seems to have no feel for language itself. The impression is either of someone forced to translate a work they have no love for, or, someone translating into a language which is not their first from a language which also is not their first. The translator's introdution implies the former. In the introduction he feels it necessary to justify the very fact that he is translating Celine at all. At the moment though, this is the only translation of London Bridge available and worth reading for those who have read Guignol's Band Part One and are interested in Celine. Worth reading... but only until a better translation comes along, which, hopefully, won't be too long as Fable For Another Time has recently been released in a wonderful translation which matches the quality of Manheim.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Louis-Ferdinand Celine has called his prose style 'the little music'. Celine is certainly capable of delicate, ironic, 'musical' writing, and you can find it easily in 'Journey to the End of Night' and 'Death on the Installment Plan'. Take one of his perfect, casual aphorisms in 'Journey': "[He] had the vice of the intellectual: he was futile."

'London Bridge' is the most excessive of Celine's books, flooded with exclamation marks and ellipses. Celine does not so much write as yell prose in 'London Bridge'. This is a book written entirely in italics, managing to sustain a mood of delirious excitement which never once modulates into anything more interesting or musical. It is a story of a youth and his dubious mentor, two Frenchmen, who are travelling abroad, and have found themselves in London. Ostensibly they are in London to get rich on the proceeds of the older man's invention - a revolutionary gas mask that will save the lives of Allied soldiers. But everything goes completely wrong from the start. The book is dominated by the protagonist Ferdinand's careening, drunken tours of the city's filthiest, sexiest precincts, and he has lots of wild violent adventures.

No-one makes any money on the invention, of course. Everyone is broke and in a state of physical collapse by the end and the endless exclamations, bangings, crashings and frantic, sweat-slicked pursuits seem to have been calculated to wear the reader's nerves to a pulp. At its best, 'London Bridge' is funny, high-speed, carnivalesque farce. But so is the rest of Celine's output, and this book entirely lacks the backhanded profundity of, for example, his treatments of World War I, the follies of the bourgeoisie, colonial power and madness in 'Journey to the End of Night'.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Maxwell's Demon on the brink of collapse. 15 May 2002
By darragh o'donoghue - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
'London Bridge' continues the misadventures of Ferdinard, anti-hero of 'Guignol's Band' and altar-ego of Celine. Exiled in the London underworld during the Great War, having served at the front and been decorated for bravery, a shellshocked Ferdinand, shrapnel in his brain, prone to fits and blackouts and a gammy left arm, on the run after the violent death of an associate, has hooked up with Sosthene de Rodiencourt, an aging Orientalist mystic. To finance a trip to Tibet, both have offered their services to a wealthy baronet, Colonel O'Collogham, who is testing military gas-masks in the hope of landing a lucrative contract. While Sosthene and O'Collogham test the masks, rattling the large house with bombs and chemicals, Ferdinand attempts to resist the lure of his host's angelic, underage, skimpily-dressed ward, Virginia, whom the Colonel humiliates by whipping in front of the servants. Terrorised by paranoia (that both the police and his old cronies are after him), a trip into the city for supplies sees Ferdinand confronted with unwelcome shades from the past.
The exhausting, febrile, exclamatory style of 'Bridge' takes its cue from its two protagonists, the mentally disoriented Ferdinand and the rythmically possessed Sostehme, with his epileptic Eastern dances. Comprising a handful of extended set-pieces, Celine doesn't so much describe the action so much as circle around it like a deranged vulture, skirting it with an excess of repetition, obscenity and slang. Ferdinand's 'reportage', coloured by paranoia, hallucination, spasms, fantasy, desire, dream, rage, confession, frustration, guilt, fear and shellshock is further disoriented by the skittish rhythms of his partner, whose possessed, frenzied dances imitate cod-Oriental texts. Many of the teeming set-pieces reveolve around literal dances - the acrobatic choreography of a ghost in a pulsing nightclub; the attempts by Sosthene to stop traffic in Picadilly with a ritualistic dance - and the style mimics their wild, jerking, swaying movements. The novel's coup-de-grace is an astonishing 100 page parody of Proust's 'Time Regained', using the same subject matter - Zeppelin air-raids, a phantasmagoric social occasion in which the hero meets figures from his past; the disorienting mix of aristocracy and criminality - but grinding it through a snarling demotic, brutal lowlife energy and slapstick violence, culminating in the arrival of a four months-long decomposing corpse.
This misanthropic catalogue of degraded and violent, if vibrant, human interaction finds room for some of the most vivid, hyperbolic and poetic descriptions of (a re-imagined) London in literature, with its labyrinthine back-streets, infernal hideouts and hangouts, and the teeming, larger-than-life activity of its ports, just as England's imperial glory is coming to an end.
The compulsive present-tense immediacy of the narrative is occasionally broken off by reminders of the narrator's vantage-point in the hell of World War 2, with the full knowledge of civilisation's embrace of the abyss. This twisted nostalgia, complete with incredulous winkings with the reader, mixed with Shakespeare, fairy tale and the Arabian Nights, illuminates the violence and grime with a genuine enchantment.
The full flavour of Celine's complex, neologistic verbal onslaught can never be caught in English, but translator Dominic di Bernardi comes closest yet, capturing rhythm, pace and the sheer overabundance or words, and is a vast improvement on the existing version of 'Guignol's Band' (any chance of having a go at that now, Mr. di Bernardi?)
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On the Bridge... 4 Oct 2000
By fmeursault@yahoo.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The manuscript was found in the ruins of a post war Europe, "London Part 2" was the continuation of "Guignol's Band"...set in England amidst the lower denizens of the underworld during World War One, Celine invites us to walk down the dark paths once again...
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars london bridge 28 Nov 2001
By steubig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
actually the rating is for the translation.
when i saw "london bridge" (guignol's band II), i was ecstatic as i had read all of celine's work available in english before it had come out (even searching out the then-out-of-print "north"-"castle to castle"-"rigadon" trilogy).
to my dismay i did not care for it as much as i had hoped.
for me (and others may have a different experience), i did not like the tone of the translation (but i did not like the translation of guignol's band I either). for me, london bridge felt self-conciously hip.
i much prefer mannhiem's translations of celine's work. perhaps i have come to equate his tone with celine's.
i think that journey and installment plan (both 5-star ratings)are better places to start with celine, then moving on to the afore-mentioned trilogy (4.5 stars each). if completeness is needed, i'd move on to the guignol's band series.
others may have a different viewpoint.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit better than "Guignol's Band" but it's also thrice the length 17 Jun 2009
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Unpublished during Céline's life, left behind in WWII France by the author when he fled to Germany and Denmark, this sprawling sequel completes the earlier fragment "Guignol's Band." At three times the length, not much changes or happens! Late on, the author's stand-in "Ferdinand" reflects that in the WWI mayhem, "I didn't know how yet to doodle out seven hundred pages like that in crazy quilt patterns." The work combined's about that long, but little plot development occurs.

The themes can be summed up. In a novel whose setting remains hermetic, stuffy, and simple, not much of the City breaks out to show itself to you until the final scene. Most of the novel's a thundering set of arguments, fights, and snits in closed rooms, labs, and bars. You see little of wartime London itself. Under fear of air raids, the people seem to be herded inside to rail and rant with little resolution and little reason; a claustrophobic atmosphere permeates this thick novel. While Céline conveys the pressures of such a life, the fiction fails to rise above it much.

There's not much social commentary or description of events that readers may expect from other novels of this time. The war causes chaos at the home front as well as the trenches where Ferdinand's been wounded: "social conditions had turned the whole world topsy-turvy...morals were out the window...customs too."(212) Cornered, Ferdinand fights against whatever system he can find to resist.

He excuses Virginia's lack of standards, given the situations they find themselves trapped in: "all of us crazy to live life to the fullest, give it everything we got, and today not tomorrow, nobody has a single second to waste, on your feet or on your back, that's the law of the world...There's no room for lame ducks...can't let them be a drag on our delights...They're just left with their imaginations, with beating their meat for all they're worth, hunkering down, keeping a low profile..."(225)

I cite this to show Dominic diBernardi's ability to render the 'metro emotif' style of Céline better than the English translator of "Guignol's Band" (1944) did in 1954-- this tone does capture Céline's verbal assault well, although it resonates feverishly and endlessly over nearly 450 pages here that may exhaust those less devoted readers! You don't find a character to pity, or latch on to: all are tainted, all whine, and all carry on for pages rarely broken even by a pause between paragraphs in this book without chapters. It's a daunting narrative to take on.

More so than Céline's best works, "Journey to the End of the Night" (1932) and "Death on the Installment Plan" (1936), the lack of story and concentration on urban, if far from urbane, London tends to make "London Bridge" and "Guignol's Band" monotonous. Even the character of Sosthéne de Rodiencourt, who at least enlivened the final pages of the first part of this fiction, turns tedious in his ranting and dancing. So, too grows the garrulous narrator, during his hallucinatory descents into a night at the Tweet-Tweet Bar, and his imagined caprices as a war-horse possibly under the influence of deadly gas, and his carrying-on during his saint's day's evening's debacle along the docks while a zeppelin attack occurs over the City.

These three scenes elevate the tone from mundane bickering and brawling to more of the same, if under the influence of the narrator's war wounds, perhaps. The plot, such as it is, remains simple. Sosthéne's flim-flammery takes him and the narrator where "Guignol's Band" left off mid-scene; the novel opens with the pair arriving at Colonel O'Colloghom's place to test gas-masks. The narrator falls for the Lolita-like fourteen-year-old nymphet, Virginia, and she becomes pregnant soon enough, although it seems he only had one go at her; she seems more experienced than she lets on to him amidst the pimps like Cascade and prostitutes like Curlers who return from the previous novel to prattle and battle endlessly.

The presence of the corpse of Claban, who in the "Greenwich incident" of the earlier novel, also complicates matters in the last part set on the docks. The narrator must decide if he's to go off to the Americas or stay with his pregnant companion and Sosthéne, even as the police appear to be set by the publican Prospero, or Cascade, or even Claban's companion Delphine, on the trio's trail for the narrator's involvement in the death of Claban. "Just because you say 'America' doesn't mean it's all going to work out!" (373) Whether or not Ferdinand will jump ship or cross London Bridge with his elderly charlatan and pubescent charmer constitutes the climactic scene in this "crazy quilt pattern."

(The three other novels by Céline have all been reviewed by me on Amazon US.)
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better than "Guignol's Band" in translation, but still dauntingly hectoring 17 Jun 2009
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Unpublished during Céline's life, left behind in WWII France by the author when he fled to Germany and Denmark, this sprawling sequel completes the earlier fragment "Guignol's Band." At three times the length, not much changes or happens! Late on, the author's stand-in "Ferdinand" reflects that in the WWI mayhem, "I didn't know how yet to doodle out seven hundred pages like that in crazy quilt patterns." The work combined's about that long, but little plot development occurs.

The themes can be summed up. In a novel whose setting remains hermetic, stuffy, and simple, not much of the City breaks out to show itself to you until the final scene. Most of the novel's a thundering set of arguments, fights, and snits in closed rooms, labs, and bars. You see little of wartime London itself. Under fear of air raids, the people seem to be herded inside to rail and rant with little resolution and little reason; a claustrophobic atmosphere permeates this thick novel. While Céline conveys the pressures of such a life, the fiction fails to rise above it much.

There's not much social commentary or description of events that readers may expect from other novels of this time. The war causes chaos at the home front as well as the trenches where Ferdinand's been wounded: "social conditions had turned the whole world topsy-turvy...morals were out the window...customs too."(212) Cornered, Ferdinand fights against whatever system he can find to resist.

He excuses Virginia's lack of standards, given the situations they find themselves trapped in: "all of us crazy to live life to the fullest, give it everything we got, and today not tomorrow, nobody has a single second to waste, on your feet or on your back, that's the law of the world...There's no room for lame ducks...can't let them be a drag on our delights...They're just left with their imaginations, with beating their meat for all they're worth, hunkering down, keeping a low profile..."(225)

I cite this to show Dominic diBernardi's ability to render the 'metro emotif' style of Céline better than the English translator of "Guignol's Band" (1944) did in 1954-- this tone does capture Céline's verbal assault well, although it resonates feverishly and endlessly over nearly 450 pages here that may exhaust those less devoted readers! You don't find a character to pity, or latch on to: all are tainted, all whine, and all carry on for pages rarely broken even by a pause between paragraphs in this book without chapters. It's a daunting narrative to take on.

More so than Céline's best works, "Journey to the End of the Night" (1932) and "Death on the Installment Plan" (1936), the lack of story and concentration on urban, if far from urbane, London tends to make "London Bridge" and "Guignol's Band" monotonous. Even the character of Sosthéne de Rodiencourt, who at least enlivened the final pages of the first part of this fiction, turns tedious in his ranting and dancing. So, too grows the garrulous narrator, during his hallucinatory descents into a night at the Tweet-Tweet Bar, and his imagined caprices as a war-horse possibly under the influence of deadly gas, and his carrying-on during his saint's day's evening's debacle along the docks while a zeppelin attack occurs over the City.

These three scenes elevate the tone from mundane bickering and brawling to more of the same, if under the influence of the narrator's war wounds, perhaps. The plot, such as it is, remains simple. Sosthéne's flim-flammery takes him and the narrator where "Guignol's Band" left off mid-scene; the novel opens with the pair arriving at Colonel O'Colloghom's place to test gas-masks. The narrator falls for the Lolita-like fourteen-year-old nymphet, Virginia, and she becomes pregnant soon enough, although it seems he only had one go at her; she seems more experienced than she lets on to him amidst the pimps like Cascade and prostitutes like Curlers who return from the previous novel to prattle and battle endlessly.

The presence of the corpse of Claban, who in the "Greenwich incident" of the earlier novel, also complicates matters in the last part set on the docks. The narrator must decide if he's to go off to the Americas or stay with his pregnant companion and Sosthéne, even as the police appear to be set by the publican Prospero, or Cascade, or even Claban's companion Delphine, on the trio's trail for the narrator's involvement in the death of Claban. "Just because you say 'America' doesn't mean it's all going to work out!" (373) Whether or not Ferdinand will jump ship or cross London Bridge with his elderly charlatan and pubescent charmer constitutes the climactic scene in this "crazy quilt pattern."

(The three other novels by Céline have all been reviewed by me on Amazon US.)
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