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Journey to the Edge of the Night (Voyage Au Bout de la Nuit) is a 1932 novel by the late French nihilist Louis-Ferdinand Celine (born Destouches). Perhaps its most distinguishing characteristic is pessimism and hopelessness. In this way, it's like Samuel Beckett's Molloy/Malone Dies/The Unnamable trilogy, but made even more oppressive by its realism--Beckett's work at least provides the refuge of relative abstraction.

The main character's name is Ferdinand Bardamu. He is a doctor in training (one of this novel's most crushing elements is the fact that all of his patients die, mostly from their own sense of "propriety"). As the book opens, he is sitting in a Paris cafe and amiably discussing politics with his friend. An army officer appears and grabs them both to serve in World War I. At this point all hell breaks loose.

The negativity in this book is characteristic of Celine, who very much resembled Bardamu in reality. Here, there are no good characters (except one; more below). Everyone is completely full of shit, evil, vain, weak, or otherwise unworthy. The poor as stupid and cruel as the rich; the Americans are just as primitive as the jungle-dwelling Africans. People are bad. God is dead and so is Man. Priests sell ill travelers into slavery. Anyone who self-identifies as a cynic must read this book and question how far cynicism can go (I enjoyed every minute of it). For pessimists, cynics, suicidal teenagers and the like, this book has the appeal of a pornographic magazine--it is evil, but irresistible. Those who prefer positivity had better read something else; they will either become bored or severely depressed.

A cardinal element of this work is the women. Bardamu has sexual relations with what seems like a vast number of them throughout the book; all except one turn out to be possessive, fake, empty prostitutes. The one that doesn't is, ironically enough, a real prostitute (one of the rare female Christ-figures). Compared to the rest of it, the few pages where Bardamu is with her seem to physically shine. The unexpectedness of her appearance is startling.

The book ends with an indictment of love as just another way of expressing envy, jealousy and possessiveness. If what I just described seems like "This just confirms what I have been thinking all this time!" I'd recommend the book. For the good of those around you, though, abstain from social intercourse while you read it.

The quote below is a perfect example of the stuff this book contains.

"From up high where I was, you could shout anything you liked at them. I tried. They made me sick, the whole lot of them. I hadn't the nerve to tell them so in the daytime, to their face, but up there it was safe. "Help! Help!" I shouted, just to see if it would have any effect on them. None whatsoever. Those people were pushing life and night and day in front of them. Life hides everything from people. Their own noise prevents them from hearing anything else. They couldn't care less. The bigger and taller the city, the less they care. Take it from me. I've tried. It's a waste of time."

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