Two young men, Jacques Darribehaude and Jean Guenot set off for Meudon in 1960, with the aim of recording the words of Louis-Ferdinand Céline and talking him into making a film, that they would devote to him — but Celine, it is said, began by showing them the door.

‘I do not converse!’ he told them, before setting an appointment for later.

During the interviews, which turned out to be the most concise and revealing he ever gave, he spoke of his influence, citing La Fontaine, Villon, Racine, Proust and Stendhal, and also described his childhood and the years of his apprenticeship, in detail that had been hitherto unknown — outside of his works of course.

Louis-Ferdinand Céline had been forgotten by then and today remains largely so, possiby due to dubious wartime associations that academics are still picking through. It makes Celine an uncomfortable proposition for any reader, not to mention publisher, but it does not make him any less a writer. I remember on the release of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, one Guardian critic said that Irvine Welsh was the Scottish Celine, an infuriating statement. There seems to be little to link them. Right wing sympathies? No, not likely. The violation of literary convention? I think this applies to Céline, whose prose was rhythmic, broken up and to an extent, difficult to read.  Celine was one of the few writers in the twentieth century letters who developed style far beyond the calls of literary norm, and who made up something all of their own, and formed a brand new and never to be repeated voice.

The Céline style, although highly evolved even by his second novel, did change considerably over the years, and at times, such as in Féerie pour une autre fois (Fable for Another Time — 1952) did become obscure to the point of inaccessible. What is amusing about Fable for Another Time for fans of Céline however, is that it marks the only attempt I can think of that Céline made to court popularity.

He had every reason to do so, as he was almost forgotten as a writer of any relevance in France, and so Fable for Another Time is something of a fictionalised memoir, standing above all as a defense of its author's actions, his style and his stance. For some reason, in its composition, which at times he may have felt could have been his post-War masterpiece, the author pushes the Céline style to extremes.

That Fable for Another Time portrays Céline is obvious — it tells of a man imprisoned and reviled by his own countrymen, and quickly descends into utter hatred, madness and a violent frustration with the hypocrisy and banality of his fellows. One of Céline’s longstanding hobbies had been reviling his publishers and not being reprinted after the War made this much worse — for everybody. One of his bête noirs was Francois Mauriac.

The French intellectuals pressed on against Céline, who stood for a populist pre-War literature that had faltered into barbarism and racism, and Céline’s rage itself did not help matters. Reading his letters, on this front, is staggering. Without doubt, Celine was ignored, and he hated everybody for it, with no exceptions, and so every writer who achieved anything in the 1940s and 1950s was game, and is readily attacked in the letters, if not the books themselves.

In Denmark, and being far from his homeland, it was worse for Céline. He blamed politicians, judges, journalists and his fellow writers for the atmosphere of victimisation he felt. As a man of the people, Céline was most foully upset about his books being unavailable, and thus cut off from his readership. As I've said, he held Francois Mauriac in the most vile reagrd of all.  Mauriac had been prominent in the resistance, and to his credit, had also argued for leniency for collabos after the War. Céline wrote Mauriac a few personal letters, detailing his wrath.

‘Ah Mauriac, they say you are a novelist, thus a little imaginative all the same, so you may be able to imagine the effect on me of your article Rossinante! The dumb jerk, took him 15 years and what a disaster… ah please stop, Mauriac! stop vatinicating, stop mellifluating… You’re bringing down thunderbolts, floods!’ (Letter of 1949, Textes et documents 2, op. cit 114)