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Normance by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
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Normance (1954)

by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

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The last of Louis Ferdinand's fictional works to be translated into English by Marlon Jones--Normance was the sequel to 'Fable for another time'. These two works written in Denmark--post WWII with Celine living in prison or in exile because of activities/non-activities supporting the French Vichy regime in collaboration with the Nazi German army's occupation of his country.

Normance somewhat describes the allied bombing of Paris on the evening of April 21, 1944 which as it happens was the only time during the war the allies bombed that French city. Within the context of his work it is not the only allied bombing that Celine describes--'Guignol's band' more or less about a French child and his year in an English boarding school sometime around the beginning of the 20th century starts off with the Germans bombing and strafing refugees after the collapse of the French and British armies in the early days of WWII. Celine will go on to describe in his WWII trilogy--'Castle to Castle', 'North' and 'Rigodoon' some of the massive alliied bombings of German cities during that war.

Of course when I say he describes--one needs to keep the word 'describe' in perspective--particularly his perspective. Celine's prose in his later works was almost a Jackson Pollock of words--the language used mostly described in terms of noise and shards in respect to the sensory effects on the narrator. He tells a story for sure but it's not like the kind of story you would come to expect from practically any other writer. He tells it almost in fantastical terms as one 'Jules' a legless sculptor floating in the air perched on top of a windmill directs the allied planes on their bombing runs---the planes in the meantime screaming overhead unloading endless amounts of explosives--the buildings shaking and jumping sometimes even disappearing into a hole in the sky while Ferdinand the doctor shouts insults at Jules across lakes of phosphorous which only hours before were boulevards. The building in which Ferdinand lives with his wife Lili and their cat Bebert is almost beehive-like. People running down to the lower floors, crashing into each other, cowering under tables--their worldly possessions flying out the windows. It is here that we meet Normance--a narcoleptic 400 pound human being who Ferdinand just can't stay out of the way of--always being flattened and crushed under as the occupants careen from wall to wall to floor. In the middle of all this chaos a great discovery takes place in one of the apartments--thousands upon thousands of bottles of booze of every kind imaginable--hidden in the walls, the furniture and under the floorboards--and so a great bacchanal starts up among the shell shocked residents of the apartment house. Eventually the planes go away and the battered doctor is carried piggyback by his friend Ottavio to his apartment on the 6th floor to review the damage--in a final bit of absurdity they break a hole through the wall and into the next building to discover the almost unmarked apartment of a famous silent movie star who is sitting at a table placed for 6--waiting for his guests (including Winston Churchill and the Pope) to arrive. A woman lies drowned among more bottles of booze in his bathtub and his maid lies dead under a pile of rubble.

FWIW--the mixture of exaggeration, absurdity, bombastic tones and black humor can go right over the top at times and for the first two thirds of the novel there are almost no lulls in the action. Celine is well known as the novelist of cataclysms and catastrophes. This is very much in that vein--though also it can be seen that his writing is in the process of transitioning into its final stage--in which he produces his WWII trilogy of which IMO 'Castle to Castle' the first book is nearly a masterpiece and 'North' is a masterpiece. As for the final verdict on Normance--I liked it a lot though it is definitely not among his best works. Even at his worst though Celine is a much more interesting writer--certainly stylistically than practically any other writer of his time. Keeping that in mind it deserves recognition and reccomendation--though for someone who has never read him before--it's best to start with his first novel 'Journey to the end of the night'. ( )
1 vote lriley | Jun 30, 2009 |
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"A landmark event: The last of Louis-Ferdinand Celine's novels to be translated into English, this account of an air raid on Paris during World War II throws readers into a world in which human aggressions, appetites, and suspicions come boiling to the surface in preposterous dimensions. A frantic narrator, in search of complicity, relates the story of an apocalyptic ballet that leaves reason and order in shreds. As bombing turns Montmartre into an underworld teeming with dirty deeds, our guide resists the inhumanity with animal desperation and twisted hilarity. Celine animates these events with the exuberance and speed of his unhinged style, fully developed and uninhibited, and fully his own."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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