This disturbing novel almost won the Prix Goncourt Prize for fiction, the most notable award at the time for French fiction. It deserves to have won all the literary awards at the time of publication.
So why read it now? It's because the desperate, existential character of the novel, Ferdinand Bardamu, L-F Celine's alter ego in his fiction, draws you into his story from his personal first person perspective. It's no surprise that, in the 1930s, the novel caused such a storm, because of its frank, explicit depiction of the troubles and turmoils of working class French (and other) life. You become captive, in the hands of a true narrator/story teller: Bardamu, expressing the anguish of the human condition (the raison d'Ãªtre of existential fiction), has nothing to embellish, he's at the bottom of the working class French such that, he can't even imagine anything else beyond a good meal and wine. If he gets these things, he's often lucky or fortuitous.
At the same time, you are reading through Bardamu's experience, living it, such that you feel trapped, suffocated, despairing, nihilistic, overwhelmed, annihilated, when he does. Yet he continues, through the dire madness and desperation of WW1, through to the equal nuttiness of French Colonial Africa, to the monster of the machine that is the Ford factory in Detroit, back to France, and Bardamu's desperate living as a doctor among the damned (the absolutely impoverished of France, with no hope, no legislation to defend them, no money, no succour, no opportunity to go beyond their desperate lives).
In other words: to read this novel is to experience, painfully and truthfully, the destitution, pain and annihilation of not only WW1 and its economic aftermath but, most especially, the troubles economic and otherwise that impact upon the poor. It is an incredible read; it is uncompromising, desperately true, always sincere, painfully hopeful, but destitute of opportunity that goes beyond the life of the simple, lower class bourgeois.show more