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Latest Review: "Normance" by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Monica Carter on Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Normance, which was translated by Marlon Jones and published earlier this year by Dalkey Archive Press.

Monica is one of our long-time reviewers and runs the always excellent Salonica World Lit website. She also works at Skylight Books whose tagline (“What a neighborhood bookstore should be . . .) equals awesome. Skylight is also our “featured bookseller of the month summer” and recently redesigned their website. (It looks great! And the book search database works a lot better now. Although it sucks that you can’t click on the author’s name anymore to get a full list of her/his titles. Yeah, I know, I shouldn’t gripe in the middle of this post, but it’s Friday.)

As many of you know, I used to work at Dalkey, and after leaving, there have been pointed comments from both sides. Well, in the spirit of something, I want to recommend that any Facebook users become fans of the Dalkey page. It’s just too sad to see them sitting there with 29 fans . . . And while I’m at it, Open Letter has both a group and a fan page. Well, after looking at these more carefully, we’ve decided that the fan page is the better option, and as a result, we’re going to be posting much more frequently there. So if you’re not already a fan (or if you’re only part of our “group,” which has hundreds of more members), please “fan” us by clicking here.

OK, back to literature . . .

Céline’s Death on the Installment Plan is one of my all-time favorite books, and Normance seems to have a bit of the same unhinged, manic energy. Here’s the opening of Monica’s review:

When a reader, and I mean a true reader looking for guts, the unexpected and the challenging, encounters Céline, she knows that her literary fate is forever changed. Gather your beatniks, your cynics, your semi-autobiographers and toss in a dirty handful of John Kennedy Toole and this might give an idea of what reading Céline is like. Céline’s misanthropy is sobering and hilarious, best rendered in Journey to the End of the Night and Death on the Installment Plan, and is also a reaction to war, to unabashed nationalism and unquestioned authoritarianism. In Normance, the doctor turned writer returns to the theme of war, giving us unrelenting and dizzying account of the Allied bombing of Paris from April 21-22, 1944.

For this reason, this not an easy book to read, even for the Céline fan. And to translate it is even more challenging, but the task is easily handled b Marlon Jones, who also delivers an introduction that serves as a valuable companion to the book. Céline can be an obstacle in any language, but when the translation is this good, it justifies our efforts to attempt to read and understand his work.

He doesn’t separate much between the narrator, Louis/Ferdinand, and himself. And the reader doesn’t need to know if there is a difference once she is incessantly bombarded by the tommy-gun narrative that delivers blow after blow of loaded phrases broken up only by ellipses and exclamation points. Stuck in a building with his girlfriend, Arlette/Lili(again the blurring of fiction and reality), and the other tenants, he focuses on his lost cat Berbert and Jules, the hunchback artist he accuses of seducing his girlfriend and conducting the bombing:

“We’ll talk about Jules’s wizardry later! . . . criminal wizardry! directing all the bombs toward us! From way up in the sky! From La Fourche Valley! From the right, from the left! But he doesn’t get swept away himself! The hurricane doesn’t carry him off! it respects him! the sweetheart! doesn’t get his head chopped of by the propeller! doesn’t flip over with his canes, plunge into the bushes . . . onto the grill! Oof! he catches himself every time! a big gust . . . he’s spinning! vrrrr! he rolls to the other edge!”

Click here for the full review.



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