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This was one of the most glorious things I've ever read. In fact, I think this might now be my all-time favourite book. It's just magnificent.


The book is another Roman à clef (they tend to be the books I most enjoy). This is Celine's early life in fictionalised form.


It begins in World War I with Bardamu (Celine's alter ego) and explores the trauma and futility of the war. Then Bardamu goes to Africa which results in more suffering. Then he goes to New York and works at the Ford company and meets a prostitute called Molly. Then the book jumps ahead six years to when Bardamu has become a qualified doctor. He begins working in a working-class suburb of Paris and deals with horrific things such as botched abortions, miscarriages and the death of a local child. This is where Leon Robinson, someone he first met in the war and bumped into again in Africa and New York, becomes a regular character in his life. 


The book is often described as a celebration nihilism. Celine has very little respect for humanity. To him, it's suffering, crime, greed, and pain. He witnesses awful things but responds to them as though they're the utter embodiment of normalcy (the book is actually quite funny because of this). Even when Robinson plots to murder an old woman, Bardamu doesn't care, he simply thinks... 'it's nothing to do with me.'


There's an underlying message about the trauma caused to both him and Robinson due to the war. They have both been numbed to the point that they are no longer human.


The prose is some of the most exquisite I've ever come across. Which is interesting because it was made famous for its more authentic, real-life writing. 


There's a chapter where he's on the boat to Africa which is amazing. It encapsulates humanities distrust of other people and their tendency to hate. Bardamu doesn't speak much or get involved so everyone on the ship turns against him and you genuinely feel the sense of threat, that they might actually kill him for daring to be different. 


Celine, of course, was a noted antisemite in real life. That might be an issue for some. Personally speaking, the fact that Celine is a fairly awful person himself only makes the book resonate more. I have a tendency to separate the artist form the art. And thank God because this book is a masterpiece.


Edited by hux
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