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Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Guignol’s Band (Guignol’s Band)

This novel has two parts. The second was believed lost, till Céline’s secretary accidentally found it in 1962. It is, frankly, messy. Some have said that this is a deliberate ploy on the part of the Céline, while others have argued that it is simply messy and that is all there is to it. We again meet Ferdinand from Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night) and Mort à credit (Death on the Installment Plan; UK: Death on Credit). This time he is in London, where, as his creator did, he associates with the prostitutes, pimps and drug dealers. There is a sort of a plot but much of it is a mish-mash of the adventures of Ferdinand, now invalided from the French army. He first becomes involved with Boro, a pub pianist, and then Cascade, a French pimp, who has taken over the prostitutes of those pimps who have left to fight for France and whose nephew Ferdinand helped while in military hospital. In his travels he meets larger-than-life characters, such as the pawnbroker, von Claben, whose premises are packed high with his stuff, and Dr. Clodowitz, the clown-like doctor. With Scotland Yard and Cascade on his tail, after von Claben and his assistant die, Ferdinand realises that he is probably better off fighting for the French, even with his injuries, than staying any longer in London.

At the French Consulate, he meets the wonderfully named Hervé Sosthène de Rodiencourt, who offers to take him to Tibet as a means of escaping London, though they end up designing a new gas mask for a colourful colonel. This is where the second volume starts. Ferdinand falls for the colonel’s niece, the innocent Virginie, but, when her parents object, the couple decide to elope. It all becomes very complicated, particularly when Ferdinand involved the criminals he associated with in part 1. The book was posthumously named Pont de Londres (London Bridge) and the story ends with Ferdinand symbolically leaving London over London Bridge. Céline had indicated that he planned to write a third novel in the series.

Publishing history

First published 1944 by Denoël
First published in English 1954 by New Directions
Translated by Bernard Frechtman and Jack T Nile