cover image Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Journeys to the Extreme

Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Journeys to the Extreme

Damian Catani. Reaktion, $37.50 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-78914-467-3

Catani (Evil), a French lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London, digs into the “darkest corners of the human psyche” that fascinated French novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894–1961) in this nuanced biography. Catani focuses on Celine’s emotional life—which was shaped by his traumatic experience serving in WWI and his time as a supervisor on a plantation in Cameroon and as a doctor in working-class Clichy—and doesn’t shy away from the essential problem of evaluating Celine’s literary legacy: his anti-Semitism. Catani wonders how the author of 1932’s Journey to the Edge of the Night—hailed as a novel that would “forever transform” the “landscape of twentieth-century literature”—could take his “eye off the ball” of his inner life and become the author of a series of popular anti-Semitic pamphlets before the outbreak of WWII. While Journey was a success, Catani writes, Celine’s second novel was skewered by critics, and his “deep hurt” over this rejection found an outlet in his anti-Semitic writing. Catani does plenty of work to tie his reading of Celine’s life to the present day, spotlighting, for instance, a strain of contemporary French scholarship that interprets the author’s anti-Semitic writings as hiding “behind an ironic aesthetic façade.” Readers interested in the perennial debate about whether or how to separate the art from the artist will find much to consider in this thoughtful work. (Oct.)