The most blackly humorous and disenchanted voice in all of French literature.

London Review of Books

Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Louis-Ferdinand Celine (1894–1961) was a French author best known for his works Journey to the End of the Night and Death on the Installment Plan. After returning from war with a partially paralyzed right arm, Celine worked with the passport office of the French Consulate in London, later moved to Africa to work for a French lumber company, moved back to France, lectured about tuberculosis for the Rockefeller Foundation, and earned a medical degree from the University of Rennes. It was while he worked as a doctor that he turned to writing. He had a successful, albeit controversial, career as a writer until he suffered a stroke in 1961 and passed away.

cover image of the book War


Céline had long claimed that Death on the Installment Plan was part of a trilogy, and that the manuscripts of War and London had been stolen by the Resistance from his apartment, when he fled for his life—an abhorred collaborator—from Paris. Few believed him, but then, mysteriously, the manuscripts came to light in 2020. Greeted rapturously in France (“a miracle,” Le Monde; “the discovery of a great text,” Le Point), War is sure to generate more controversy abroad. Though much revered as “the most blackly humorous and disenchanted voice in all of French literature” (London Review of Books), Céline is also reviled for his infamous antisemitic wartime pamphlets.

War begins with Ferdinand waking in shock on the battlefield, grievously injured, with all his comrades sprawled out dead around him: it’s a scene of visceral horror, carnage, and pain.

The novel’s key idea—that trench warfare lodges itself in the soldier’s head forever, goes on destroying him, cuts him off from those who have not been on the front, and makes the hypocrisies of their safe world repugnant—drives itself under the reader’s skin, powered by the sheer velocity of Céline’s voracious, gritty, raw, graphic style.

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cover image of the book Journey to the End of the Night

Journey to the End of the Night

by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Translated by Ralph Manheim

With a contribution by William Vollmann

Céline’s masterpiece—colloquial, polemic, hyper realistic—boils over with bitter humor and revulsion at society’s idiocy and hypocrisy: Journey to the End of the Night is a literary symphony of cruelty and violence that hurtles through the improbable travels of the petit bourgeois (and largely autobiographical) antihero, Bardamu: from the trenches of WWI, to the African jungle, to New York, to the Ford Factory in Detroit, and finally to life in Paris as a failed doctor. Ralph Manheim’s pitch-perfect translation captures Céline’s savage energy, and a dynamic afterword by William T. Vollmann presents a fresh, furiously alive take on this astonishing novel.

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cover image of the book Guignol’s Band

Guignol’s Band

In Guignol’s Band, first published in France in 1943, Céline explores the horror of a disordered world. The hero, the semi-autobiographical Ferdinand, moves through the nightmare of London’s underworld during the years of World War I. In this distressing setting, he meets pimps and prostitutes, pawnbrokers and magicians, policemen and arsonists. He sees social and physiological decomposition as these processes unfold along parallel lines of development. The illusions of existence are nakedly exposed. The narrative erupts in Céline’s characteristic elliptical style. His splintered sentences and scatology reflect his fury at the fragmentation of experience and at his own impotence in the face of it. Out of his rage, he forces the meaninglessness back on itself, and the exuberance of his struggle triumphs in the comic exaggeration of satire. Ultimately, his subject is not death but life, and he responds to it by a strengthened commitment to the sensual and concrete. His hallucinatory world is so vividly realized that it does, indeed, challenge the reality of the reader’s more conventional world.

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cover image of the book Death On The Installment Plan

Death On The Installment Plan

Death on the Installment Plan is a companion volume to Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s earlier novel, Journey to the End of the Night. Published in rapid succession in the middle 1930s, these two books shocked European literature and world consciousness. Nominally fiction but more rightly called “creative confessions,” they told of the author’s childhood in excoriating Paris slums, of service in the mud wastes of World War I and African jungles. Mixing unmitigated despair with Gargantuan comedy, they also created a new style, in which invective and obscenity were laced with phrases of unforgettable poetry. Céline’s influence revolutionized the contemporary approach to fiction. Under a cloud for a period, his work is now acknowledged as the forerunner of today’s “black humor.”

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The most blackly humorous and disenchanted voice in all of French literature.

London Review of Books

My favorite French classic has to be Journey to the End of the Night. It’s an epic that takes you all around the world, but the center of the world is Paris, or Céline’s delirious, slightly hallucinatory, incredibly poetic vision of it.

Andrew Hussey, The Guardian

An extraordinarily gifted writer, he writes like a lunging live wire, crackling and wayward, full of hidden danger.

Alfred Kazin

Teeming with disease, misanthropy, and dark comedy.

The New Yorker

It could be said that without Céline there would have been no Henry Miller, no Jack Kerouac, no Charles Bukowski, no Beat poets.

John Banville

Terrifying: enormously powerful and slashing, satiric, misanthropic—but what power of the imagination!

James Laughlin

Céline is my Proust!

Philip Roth

Céline was a great writer not because he was a stylist alone but because he was able to bring together sensation, thought and expression in a way that drove his readers to the edge of consciousness.

The Nation
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