Here’s a novel powerful enough to suck the life out of Amazon’s entire self-help catalogue in seconds. In terms of sheer pessimistic cynicism of humanity, Céline’s Night is unparalleled with its tale of Ferdinand Bardamu’s adventures as he leaves his native Paris for WW1, Africa, the US and returns full circle to pursue work as a doctor in a profession he barely believes in. If Henry Miller didn’t get his inspiration from this novel for his riotous Tropics of Cancer & Capricorn, I’ll be very surprised.
All along the way, everything and everyone he encounters is subject to satire and critical examination. There are no survivors, not even Bardamu himself. Being British, I was born cynical, and although I appreciated what Miller had to say (to a certain extent), I found Night a lot easier to follow.
For a start, there’s a storyline and the writing maintains its structure, which is, in places, sublime. Miller would no doubt cite these as his first criticisms of a work that is ostensibly anti-establishment, and he would have a point. However, Céline keeps you wanting to read his novel, and thereby get his point, to the end. Miller doesn’t give a newt’s fart if you read his books or not.
In addition to a storyline, Céline can be genuinely funny in places. Bardamu is an engaging character who ends up in some fairly extreme circumstances and always manages to come out intact… just about. I appreciated the geographical variety that this novel offered, particularly the African colonial adventures which ended far too soon for me. Colonialism deserves all the satire it can get as far as I’m concerned.
For anyone who found Miller far too intense, heavy-going, lurid and/or utterly bonkers, try Night first or perhaps just read Night and stop there. In many ways, it will communicate the same message that Miller’s writing does which is that in general life can’t be taken too seriously and in particular that society is purely farcical.
We need writers like these if only to counteract the Lion King-sized lies of Disney. Where are they today?
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style
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