In Death on Credit, Ferdinand, Céline's alter ego, is a doctor in Paris, treating the poor who seldom pay him but take every advantage of his availability. The action is not continuous but goes back in time to earlier memories and often moves into fantasy, especially in Ferdinand's sexual escapades; the style becomes deliberately rougher and sentences disintegrate to catch the flavour of the teeming world of everyday Parisian tragedies, struggles to make a living, illness, venereal disease, the sordid stories of families whose destiny is governed by their own stupidity, malice, lust and greed.
Though at times off-putting due to its idiosyncrasies and apparent redundancies, the novel is considered among many of Céline's fans as his most accomplished work. It offers a profound vision of the nature of individual human existence, rooted in suffering and inertia. The anti-heroic genius of Ferdinand's search for a livable life in 20th century Paris forms a direct literary metaphor for modern humanity: to search and search again for happiness and meaning in a complex world and to often come up empty. Or more precisely, to find words, stories, experiences, and ideas that stretch the boundaries of consciousness while providing little or no structure with which to assign any meaning to life as a whole. Life becomes merely a subjective personal experience in the midst of madness and savagery. It is considered beautiful in itself but with overtones of profound suffering and a lack of moral prerogatives, always at the mercy of the strange human forces that are both within and without. To Céline, we become our own history and our own suffering. As such we live, accumulating the pain, confusion, and death that life allows us to have on installment.
In the 1998 film Wild Things, the character of Suzie Marie Toller (Neve Campbell) is encountered by the police while reading a paperback edition of Death on the Installment Plan—a subtle indication of the attitude of the character and her role in the plot.