cover image London Bridge

London Bridge

Louis-Ferdinand Celine. Dalkey Archive Press, $23.95 (390pp) ISBN 978-1-56478-071-3

Whatever one thinks of Celine's politics, it's hard to deny his position as an innovative, influential and still readable writer. Originally published in 1965 but never before translated into English, London Bridge continues the journey of the young Ferdinand of Guignol's Band, who, physically and psychologically damaged by his service in WWI, had left France only to fall in with a rough crowd of pimps and petty criminals in London. This sequel jumps right in with Ferdinand and his latest lunatic compatriot, Sosthene de Rodiencourt, answering the equally mad Colonel O'Collogham's advertisement for help designing and testing gas masks. The shysters settle in comfortably with the colonel until Ferdinand's old cronies discover his whereabouts and Virginia, the colonel's 14-year-old nymphet niece, winds up pregnant as a result of Ferdinand's attentions. All this may sound distasteful, but this is the hard-edged world so perfectly suited to Celine's slangy, propulsive language, filled with ellipses and exclamation marks (``right off they start flapping about helplessly, crumple, in twosomes... foursomes... in heaps... snoring away... they need a shot of booze, a pick-me-up!... the gang's dozed off!''). Celine at his most grizzly is also Celine at his most maniacally funny-here, particularly when Centipede, a footpad Ferdinand had killed in Guignol's Band, comes back in all his putrescence to have dinner with Ferdinand and Virginia. Ferdinand is a semi-autobiographical character-like him, Celine was injured in the war and subsequently went to London-and, perhaps because of this personal connection, there is always a hint of vulnerability under the carapace of Celine's perpetual cynicism. (Mar.)