JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT (1932) is a novel by Louis-Ferdinand Celine.
12/01/09 | Novel

Journey to the End of the Night

by Paul Kavanagh

“I’m leaving,” said Jane Vaughan from the open front door. “Have a good day,” said William Vaughan affably. When he heard the door close he ran to the window and watched her climb into her car. He waited; he busied himself with biting his bottom lip. He spat intermittently the pieces of masticated skin. The car slowly rolled forward. William Vaughan ran quickly to the door. He counted to five, he couldn’t wait until ten, but he had told himself that he would count to ten. He opened the door and ran to his car. Luckily, he turned and saw that he had left the front door open. He cussed, punched himself in the leg; he thought about leaving, but he couldn’t; he had to close the door, anyway, he knew where they would be, together.


What was he doing? The question reverberated, but each time it collided with the wall. Saint James Church Yard, he could not believe them. It was disgusting.

He had to see them, he couldn’t stop himself. It was as though a specter was pushing him, as though a spook was pulling him. He fell to his knees and crawled slowly along.  They were there, together. The lower esophageal sphincter relaxed. The vomit was like battery acid within his mouth. The vomit was brown and runny. Although they too possessed skin, fat, flesh, veins, arteries, ligaments, nerves, cartilages, glands, bones, marrow, humors, wombs, brains and recognizable articulations, they were not like him. He told himself this over and over again and again, they were not like him.


And so he surreptitiously slipped out of the darkness and crawled over the dead towards them. Crawled over Thomas McBride: cancer, Mary McBride: cancer, John Spencer: heartattack, William Spencer: broken neck, Murphy Murphy: poison, Paddy McCormick: bullet to the head, Francis Duggan: blew himself up, Doxy Dixon: a spade through the pate, Maggie McDonald: garroted by her suspender belt, Pat Traynor: the plague, Diana Hanson: the black death, Freddie Tully: fell from his ladder or stool, Wayne Duggan: shat his pants and hemorrhaged. The darkness enveloped him and under his gut the mud became animated and he heard the rats scurrying, the worms slivering and the maggots masticating, and bones rattling, and the decomposing, the putrefying, the regurgitating and the defecating. It was a pandial orgy down there! He heard the dead turning to putrid, and the viscous subterraneous rivers of waste, of detritus, of slime, of wood, of lead, of heart, of lung, of eyes, of brain, of skull, undulate through the apertures of the earth. And he heard screams, bellows, yells, cusses, profanities and a cacophony of trumpets, and horns, and drums rage through Pandemonium and beneath him he heard Antaeus the big feet, Arezzo that flying machine, Barbariccia the napoleon of the underworld, and toothless Caiaphas, and blockhead Cappochio, and the fat bastard Ciacco, and the horny Ciratto, and the mendacious Geryon, and the bitch da Rimmini, and the opulent Iscariot dangling his sack of silver, and long nailed pedicured Malebranche, let’s not forget Malacoda with his dirty arse, Medusa that beautiful Fury, and Minotaur with the ugly mug, and the coquettish Thias, he heard Mammon raving about his money, Belial complaining about work and Mulciber wishing he had a bigger budget and the pugnacious Moloch wanting to fight, heard them all while he bathed in slime.


“I’m sorry,” the policeman sat opposite William Vaughan spoke softly, endeavoring solemnity. William Vaughan picked up on the machinations. He could not speak, he nodded. The policeman stood up, still feigning. William Vaughan watched him. A second policeman, smaller, younger, tried to smile. It was a tenuous effort. Now lachrymose William Vaughan covered his face, he didn’t want the policemen to see the tears. He heard them breathing, they were behind his hands, there in his front room.

First there was the telephone call. He had been busy reading and then the door bell rang. He nearly collapsed, he should have collapsed; it was happening, it was really happening. The eyes were the first to communicate, something, something, in the eyes there were volumes without words and William Vaughan understood the communiqué. It was clear, opaque, unequivocal.

The photographs on the bookshelf showed a progression, from childhood to maturity. In those photographs, ephemeral moments of time, the metamorphosis of Jane Vaughan could be depicted. In those pictures she was happy, vivacious, youthful, serene, a manifestation of how life should be lived. Love was in abundance, love emanated from her, the topography loved her, the geography loved her, the people loved her. He stopped upon their wedding photograph.

“We’ll be in touch,” said the policeman stepping out of the front door.