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Death on the Installment Plan (ND Paperbook) Paperback – January 17, 1971

4.5 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Louis-Ferdinand Celine's second novel continues the style of black humor and the delirious but immediate prose that made the author instantly famous in his native France in the aftermath of World War I. Celine's goal was to create a kind of literature that described people in honest terms, unembellished by the conventions of fiction, no matter how mean and crummy they were, and to portray them in the real language of everyday life and thought. He succeeds darkly and brilliantly in Death on the Installment Plan, yet it is also a sweet kind of book, a young boy's coming-of-age tale, struggling with his parents and looking for his own kind of personal freedom.

About the Author

Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894-1961) was a French writer and doctor whose novels are antiheroic visions of human suffering. Accused of collaboration with the Nazis, Céline fled France in 1944 first to Germany and then to Denmark. Condemned by default (1950) in France to one year of imprisonment and declared a national disgrace, Céline returned to France after his pardon in 1951, where he continued to write until his death. His classic books include Journey to the End of the Night, Death on the Installment Plan, London Bridge, North, Rigadoon, Conversations with Professor Y, Castle to Castle, and Normance.

Ralph Manheim (1907-1992) was an American translator of German and French literature, as well as occasional works from Dutch, Polish and Hungarian. The PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, a major lifetime achievement award in the field of translation. is named in honor of Manheim and his work.

Product Details

  • Series: ND Paperbook
  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions (January 17, 1971)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811200175
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811200172
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #347,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on August 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
'Death On The Installment Plan' is a raging animal of a novel that eclipses even Celine's own 'Journey' (though, it must be said, not by much). Structurally it's a shambles, but the unbelievable energy behind each & every sentence is enough to propel the reader straight through the 600-odd pages. What few of the other reviews have pointed out is how gut-bustingly funny this book is. A laugh a line with Celine and no mistake...More than that, 'Death...' contains absolutely the funniest sex scene ever written, bar none. While 'Journey' is tighter and harsher and the later works are more crazily surreal, 'Death...' is the shot of pure Celine that literature needed when it was first published and which the literate world could use another dose of now. And that's no Cambridge lie.
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First, let me ask you: have you read 'Journey to the End of the Night'? If the answer is yes (and if you liked it) then my response to you is go ahead and read Death. Death is very similar to Journey, only Death takes place earlier in the life of Celine/Bardamu.

Plot (yes, there is one...kinda):
The book begins with a grown Bardamu, practicing medicine in the suburbs of Paris. Soon the action flashes back to his childhood, which is what the rest of the book is about. Like Journey, this book follows the narrator as he moves around to various destinations, including a number of apprenticeships in Paris, boarding school in England, and a farm. There are developed characters besides Bardamu; there are his parents, his uncle, and (best of all) a crazy Inventor who takes young Bardamu under his wing.

It was Bukowski who pointed me towards Celine. He praised Journey, but he said nothing about Death. Death was unavailable to me, and after I was done with Journey I tried to read Guignol's Band. I couldn't read it though due to the frequent incoherent streamofconscious rants (and perhaps because it wasn't a Manheim Translation). But then I moved and found Death on Credit (same...Credit is just the UK title, whereas it's installment plan in US), read it, and liked it even better than Journey. There are one or two short parts of surreal/hallucinatory sequences. Even those are short; 98% of the book I would describe as concrete events written coherently.

Celine has changed his style a little with his second book. Ellipses are used much more often here than they were in Journey. But I found this to work quite well, both in terms of readability, and in terms of emulating actual speech and thoughts. Also, there are no chapters in Death.
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Format: Paperback
Dr. Destouches, Louis-Ferdinand, whatever you want to call him, this man is the essence of 20th century spleen, frenetic overkill, hyperbolic, high-velocity anathema. He covers all the bases. Nothing is sacred. Everything known to man and then some is fair game for his unhomogynized, vituperative rants. And yet it is not hatred of mankind that informs his venting, it is a weird kind of love. Dr. Destouches was actually a man who would not turn down a poor patient. He had a sincere love for his wife and for his cat. He is the preeminent 20th century answer to Swift and to Pope. He holds mankind up to ridicule. He lambasts the foibles and the rot of civilization. Yet he also displays vestiges of love and of understanding beneath the ravings. He abhors the human condition, yet strangely sympathizes with its common plight. We are all actors in a ridiculous farce. Life is indeed a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing, but we are brother actors, victims of central-casting. There has never before been, nor will there ever again be, such energy displayed upon a page. The man had a vision of hell on earth and was never affronted by it. He was always willing to laugh in response to the pain. His is the consummate howl, the absurd grin, the "barbaric yawp."
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Format: Paperback
The greatest novel of one of the greatest novelists of all time.

You would have to write a book longer than Celine's novel to do any justice to analyzing it. Thus I was shocked to find the Wikipedia article about this book was about five sentences long. I dropped what I was doing and spouted off a slightly-edited paragraph about the themes of the novel. It's a flawed and cursory view of a book that is difficult to put into words, but I'll offer it here.

"It offers a profound vision of the nature of individual human existence: rooted in loneliness, pettiness, and inertia. The antiheroic genius of Bardamu's search for a livable life in early 20th century Paris forms a direct literary metaphor for modern humanity: to search and search again for happiness and meaning in a complex world and to oftentimes come up empty. Or more precisely: to find words, stories, experiences, and ideas that stretch the boundaries of consciousness while providing little or no structure with which to assign any meaning to life as a whole. Life becomes merely a subjective personal experience in the midst of madness and savagery: beautiful in itself but with overtones of profound suffering and a lack of moral prerogatives, and at the mercy of the strange human forces that are both within and without. We become our own history, and our own suffering, and as as such we live: accumulating the pain, happiness, confusion, and death that life allows us to have on installment. Even if it will all be repossessed at the end, when it becomes less than a dream. And that is a moment we all live for."

The modern world belongs to Celine.
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