CÉLINE by Patrick McCarthy


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CÉline is not a man to rest easy in his grave. Though Patrick McCarthy's penetrating biography coolly etches in the many faces--warrior and pacifist, bohemian and bourgeois, doctor and writer--the portrait, nevertheless, has an unfinished air. What can be done with so obstreperous a character, part demon, part clown, cunningly reinventing his ""various selves,"" exulting in his arias of ""fact"" and ""fancy""? One can, like McCarthy, put him in his place and time. ""He belonged to the bureaux de tabac, the neighborhood restaurant and the glorious French cavalry. . . to the Gare de l'Est and the Popular Front and, still further, to the Dreyfus case and the not so belle Époque."" But how complicated that is. More impressively, McCarthy analyzes the famous early novels, the infamous anti-Semitic pamphleteering of the Thirties, the collaborationist activities of the Forties, and the foaming WW II trilogy against the appropriate perspective: political, aesthetic, psychological. In short, he gives us a panoramic study, as sensitive and probing as CÉline's mysterious life will allow--infinitely better, in any case, than Erika Ostrovsky's effusive Voyeur Voyant (1971). But CÉline does not invite tidy categorization. Steeped in shadows, he worships catastrophe, diabolic laughter, prophetic disgust. Still, though he insisted on the documentary and the ""authentic,"" perhaps the best way to grasp him is as a ""poet""--which indeed is what he called himself. Beneath the horrors, there's lyric grandeur, a bardic appropriation of language.

Pub Date: July 7th, 1976
Publisher: Viking