Published in rapid succession in the middle 1930s, Journey to the End of the Night and Death on the Installment Plan shocked European literature and world consciousness. Nominally fiction but more rightly called "creative confessions," they told of the author's childhood in excoriating Paris slums, of service in the mud wastes of World War I and African jungles. Mixing unmitigated despair with Gargantuan comedy, they also created a new style, in which invective and obscenity were laced with phrases of unforgettable poetry. Céline's influence revolutionized the contemporary approach to fiction. Under a cloud for a period, his work is now acknowledged as the forerunner of today's "black comedy." Death on the Installment Plan is the story of young Ferdinand's first 18 years. His life is one of hatred, of the grinding struggle of small shopkeepers to survive, of childhood sensations and fantasies – lusty, scatological, violent, but also poetic. There is a running battle with his ineffectual insurance clerk of a father, with his mother, who lives and whines around the junkshop she runs for the boys benefit; there is also the superbly funny Meanwell College in England where the boy went briefly, a Dickensian, nightmare institution.
Always there is humiliation, failure, and boredom, at least until he teams up with the "scientist" des Pereires. This inventor, con-man, incorrigible optimist – whose last project is to grow enormous potatoes by electricity – rescues him, if only temporarily; for the reader he is one of the most lovable charlatans in literature.