Damian Catani’s biography of Céline is also an extensive commentary on the work ... Very much a fan, he makes some effort to lighten the charges against him. I’m not convinced it’s worth the bother; you can either digest the sins or not ... comprehensive and lucid—though Catani has been very unlucky in that a huge trove of Céline manuscripts has resurfaced just in the past month. Increasingly, I find myself losing interest in learning about a writer’s maternal grand-father, but Céline is laid bare here for the curious reader or student. The book is particularly good on the scandal of Céline being republished (it is amusing to see the convicted former French president Nicolas Sarkozy coming out to bat for him).
... while Catani provides a fairly robust critical argument for continuing to read Céline, much of this book has less to do with Céline the writer than with our current anxieties about the responsibilities of literature ... There are at least a couple of long passages in Catani’s book where it’s unclear whether he is recounting Céline’s life or summarizing Céline’s fictional versions of it ... Catani’s book spends more time wrestling with these political ghosts than it does addressing the specific merits and demerits of Céline’s work ... It is often interesting, or even exhilarating, to witness genuine human emotions pouring forth from raw, unusual books like Céline’s; but after a few hundred pages or so, all that emotional intensity seems like too much of a good thing.
... [a] nuanced biography ... Catani...doesn’t shy away from the essential problem of evaluating Celine’s literary legacy: his anti-Semitism ... Catani does plenty of work to tie his reading of Celine’s life to the present day, spotlighting, for instance, a strain of contemporary French scholarship that interprets the author’s anti-Semitic writings as hiding 'behind an ironic aesthetic façade.' Readers interested in the perennial debate about whether or how to separate the art from the artist will find much to consider in this thoughtful work.