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Louis-Ferdinand Céline: D’un château l’autre (Castle to Castle)

I’m not sure what to make of this novel, if novel it is. It was written about Céline’s experiences at the end of the war, when he was a collaborator, and primarily recounts what happened at Sigmaringen, when the Vichy government fled France after the Allied invasion and set up a government in exile. Céline makes no pretence at writing fiction. He calls himself Céline and the other characters call him Céline (almost never by his first name). He uses the names of the real characters from Laval and Pétain to Hitler and Goering. However, he does disguise some people and plays around with the chronology. More particularly he does not tell a story with a conventional plot but, instead, much of the novel is ranting and raving at all and sundry.

The opening one hundred pages or so are just that – a long rant. His main target is his publisher, Gallimard, forcing him to write this novel (he needs the money) while they are living rich, while he is poor, but his rant goes against many others – his interrogators, the hypocrisy of the French, the Germans, the Danes (who imprisoned him) and virtually every living French writer. After a bit he moves on to the story of Sigmaringen and the government in exile, telling the story of the defence of the castle and the machinations of the dying Vichy government. It is very intense and, though there is a story, he does not let up on his abuse of those he feels let him down (other French writers continue to be major targets). Even when telling his story it is done with asides, incomplete sentences, fractured dialogue, jumping from one event to another and generally giving an impression of the chaos going on, rather than telling a coherent, structured story. It was well received in France when issued and it does make for fascinating reading but it will certainly not be an easy read.

Publishing history

First published 1957 by Gallimard
First published in English 1968 by Delacorte Press
Translated by Ralph Manheim