RIGADOON by Louis-Ferdinand Celine


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One of the wonders of art is that it crystallizes temperaments, makes certain names stand for certain properties. When we think of Celine, for instance, we think of ""a naked cry,"" a ferocious writer who set Europe on its ear with two rollicking novels in the '30's, Journey to the End of Night and Death on the Installment Plan, and then turned his back on fame and fortune in order to become a virulent renegade, a racist fool, heralding the massacre of the Jews, collaborating with the enemy, finally stumbling about like an accursed Cain through Germany during the war. Rigadoon, concluding the trilogy that began with Castle to Castle and North, is another round of Celine's familiar buffoonery: devastating sketches of ruined cities, howitzers and Messerschmidts, crumbling hospitals and bureaucratic ninnies -- a hymn of survival, though not necessarily of the fittest. En route to Denmark with his wife Lili and his cat Bebert, Celine, the Pied Piper, reluctantly adopts a retinue of idiot children: ""the kids aren't scared at all, they're running, well, trying to run, at every enormous boom they collapse, all in a heap! . . . some of them must have fallen into the canal. . . everything makes them laugh. . . except the ones that fall."" Innocence, with Celine, becomes a metaphor of madness, as does the Swedish Red Cross, his savior, Celine being unregenerate to the end: ""I've kept my distance, made people hate me worse and worse, done my damnedest. . . that way I don't have to be nice to anybody."" He has a heartless, paranoid power -- a very wicked man transfigured by art.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1974
Publisher: Delacorte