Louis Ferdinand Céline is the great Bad Boy of 20th Century Literature. In 1932, he published Journey to the End of the Night, and was immediately hailed as a genius by the French literary establishment. This was followed by Death on the Installment Plan, which seemed to cement his reputation.
However, in the run-up to WWII, Céline wrote some grotesquely anti-semitic pamphlets--one so anti-semitic that it was banned by the Nazis--and later, when the war turned against Germany, he found himself on the run. After the war Céline was declared a "national disgrace" by France, did time in prison as a traitor, and had a death sentence over his head.
However, he kept writing, and resurrected his literary career with a series of three books (Castle to Castle, North, and Rigadoon) which described his travels across a bombed-out European landscape towards the end of the war.
Though not as well known as he once was, it is fair to say that post-war American Literature would not exist without Céline . Kerouac, Miller, Burroughs, all adored and imitated him, and told some funny stories about attempts to meet their hero (who was by this time something of a crotchety old man). Furthermore, many of Céline stylistic and narrative innovations were taken up by French writers in the form of the New Novel in the 1960s.
In the last decade several of Céline's minor novels have finally appeared in translation. And while London Bridge was pretty awful, and Fairytale for Another Time a bit dull, the latest, Conversations with Professor Y, is really quite good. It is short (about a hundred pages), and written as a series of interviews with a professor of literature who turns out to be a lunatic (par for the course in a novel by Céline). In it, Céline explains the reasoning behind his stylistic "excesses", especially his infamous "three dots", so if you ever take try and read another of his books, you'll know why the very look of the page is so damned weird.
It's also very, very funny. Imagine a kind of Hunter S. Thompson who didn't require drugs.