Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Journeys to the Extreme by Damian Catani - review by Andrew Hussey

Andrew Hussey

Styling It Out

Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Journeys to the Extreme

By

Reaktion Books 400pp £27 order from our bookshop
 

Although he died sixty years ago at the age of sixty-seven, the French novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline is still causing trouble in France. This is because, although he is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most innovative French prose stylists of the 20th century, he was also a ferocious anti-Semite.

Céline came to sudden and immediate fame, apparently out of nowhere, without belonging to any clique or movement, with his first two great novels, Voyage au bout de la nuit (‘Journey to the End of the Night’) and Mort à crédit (‘Death on Credit’), published in 1932 and 1936 respectively. These works were hailed as masterpieces by both the Right and the Left for their depiction of the misery of life at the bottom of society and the coarse and scabrous language in which this existence was described. Leon Trotsky was one of the first to declare Céline a modern master. He wrote, ‘Louis-Ferdinand Céline has entered into the hall of great literature as others walk into their own home.’

Between 1937 and 1941, however, Céline began to sabotage his reputation, especially with the French Left, by publishing a series of polemical texts expressing support for the most savage, virulent and murderous form of anti-Semitism. He denounced Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracies, praised Hitler and called for war and eventually the

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter