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Celine's novel, first published in 1932 marked a turning point in French literature and in World literature as well. Inspiring many others Celine's tale is a fictional autobiography of Ferdinand Bardamu, which is partly based on and inspired by the real author's experiences. Starting in France at the beginning of the First World War we follow Bardamu through his experiences, and then on to colonial Africa, onwards to America, and then back to Paris.

Celine shows his nihilistic viewpoint with the deepest darkest humour and Rabelasian fantasy. This isn't an easy read; it pulls you in and holds you viscerally not letting you go. Don't try to analyse it, just lose yourself in the written word and see where this novel takes you. To a certain extent this will get under your skin, whatever your personal feelings towards the author, as he writes about the things he sees around him with such anger and annoyance. Showing up the stupidity of Man even if you don't finish this book it is well worth reading about the war and colonialism.

Written with such power Celine really shows his contempt for his fellow Men, but in a way that is darkly humorous. A book of hate and despair this is a book arguably for all time showing us some of the stupid and destructive things that still are carried on. This is an uncomfortable read, mainly as Celine writes with such power.
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on 19 August 2013
I must admit that I'd never heard of this book or its author before I came across it on a list of recommended reads, and I would now add my name to those recommendations. The book is expansive on terms of the years it covers, amounting to the life of the protagonist Bardamu, yet it clips along at a lively pace while maintaining the his listlessness.

The book opens with Bardamu signing up for duty in the first world war, something he quickly regrets. Appalled by the mindless slaughter, the pointlessness of the conflict and the cruelty of those in command, Bardamu's outlook is set: resigned to his fate, questioning of authority and looking for a way out.

The search for an exit brings Bardamu's first encounter with Leon Robinson, who is also looking to escape. Throughout the book Robinson and Bardamu find themselves in a number of different locations - no man's land, Paris, Africa, New York - but cannot manage to change their lot, cursing their luck and surviving just above the breadline.

Bardamu's wanderings may appear listless, but they are far from frustrating. And what appears at first to be the frustrated rants of the author's main protagonist are pointed criticisms of his contemporary society - the antipathy toward ex-servicemen, the right of the poor, colonialism, the hypocrisy of authority are all spat on to the page in fits of pique.

The ideas in the book, thus morality, attitudes toward sex and criminality and the mocking of authority - let alone the language - probably explain the fuss it created when it was published. However, the book can certainly walk the walk. Bardamu is sometimes heroic, cowardly, thoughtful, selfish, likeable, despicable but always readable.
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on 13 November 2014
This is a work of literary genius that is rightly recognised in France but often overlooked by the English-speaking world. The narrator's unrelenting pessimistic view of the true value of people and human life in general, molded from genuine experiences in WW1, colonial Africa, and living in poverty as a US immigrant & back in Paris, is a refreshing antidote to the deluded, optimistic Pollyanna nonsense that makes up 99% of literature today. In parts it's hilariously funny, in others, devastatingly sad. I cannot recommend it highly enough. As with other great books, the author may have failed to achieve these heights in his subsequent work, but please don't let that put you off reading this outstanding semi-autobiographical novel.
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on 19 October 2005
I live in Ireland in 2005, it's funny how our own corrupt, drunken, unsympathetic and acquisitive little country bears no fundamental difference from the world as described by Celine. Far from being depressed by this knowledge I find it liberating, I am confirmed in my view that human nature remains constant, change is slow and the semblance of civilisation is but a illusion manufactured and promulgated by a weak and spineless media.
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VINE VOICEon 10 August 2000
Celine is a master story teller..autobiographical..pessimist..cynic...his writing style is emotion personified in a constantly over the top ( seemingly) ranting blast at the world and everything in it.....transposed ( as he puts it) from the mundane...the man is a genius with words ..he never expected ,looked for "fame" wanted to be left alone to die peacefully...as he put it he would write 80 000 pages to boil it down to 800..and each sentence is worth it...his work is just a very appealing acid champagne...thoroughly recommended...
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on 1 June 2013
In the world of literature, Louis-Ferdinand Celine is an author that is often, and unfairly, overlooked. This may be in part to a lack of decent translations of his work, but, whatever the reasons for Celine's unjust obscurity, his few readable English novels should be cherished; Journey to the End of the Night among them. I just admit, JTTEOFTN is not the novel I expected. Hearing of Celine's reputation for a misanthropic nihilist, and knowing the novel to be based around his experiences in the First World War, I expected a standard "War is Hell" type affair, and yet Journey actually focusses on the First World War for a relatively brief portion of the novel. Instead, the narrative swerves and stutters and halts abruptly, seemingly without direction or purpose; and far from leaving the reader dissatisfied, I found this departure from the expected extremely refreshing, and befitting for the misanthropic nihilist Celine.
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on 1 November 2012
I loved this book through to the end. Wonderfully written translation. The story follows Celine's alter ego though ww1 to post war America and France. The author's descriptions seem to leave a genuine feel for that space in time. Powerful and original work.
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on 7 May 2012
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 in print.
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on 25 June 2011
This disturbing novel almost won the Prix Goncourt Prize for fiction, the most notable award at the time for French fiction. It deserves to have won all the literary awards at the time of publication.

So why read it now? It's because the desperate, existential character of the novel, Ferdinand Bardamu, L-F Celine's alter ego in his fiction, draws you into his story from his personal first person perspective. It's no surprise that, in the 1930s, the novel caused such a storm, because of its frank, explicit depiction of the troubles and turmoils of working class French (and other) life. You become captive, in the hands of a true narrator/story teller: Bardamu, expressing his human condition (a raison detre of existential fiction), has nothing to embellish, he's at the bottom of the working class French such that, he can't even imagine anything else beyond a good meal and wine. If he gets these things, he's often lucky or fortuitous.

At the same time, you are reading through Bardamu's experience, living it, such that you feel trapped, suffocated, despairing, nihilistic, overwhelmed, annihilated, when he does. Yet he continues, through the dire madness and desperation of WW1, through to the equal nuttiness of French Colonial Africa, to the monster of the machine that is the Ford factory in Detroit, back to France, and Bardamu's desperate living as a doctor among the damned (the absolutely impoverished of France, with no hope, no legislation to defend them, no money, no succour, no opportunity to go beyond their desperate lives).

In other words: to read this novel is to experience, painfully and truthfully, the destitution, pain and annihilation of not only WW1 and its economic aftermath but, most especially, the troubles economic and otherwise that impact upon the poor. It is an incredible read; it is uncompromising, desperately true, always sincere, painfully hopeful, but destitute of opportunity that goes beyond the life of the simple, lower class bourgeois.
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on 20 March 2006
This books is an opus of the last century, and in truth is the finest book I have read. Issues of style, content and humanity all make this one of the best books.
Celines voyage commences in darkness and remains in darkness but the slivers of hope and insight he offers are astounding.
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