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March 24, 2013

Rohit Reviews: Nausea

Well, dear readers, it's been a while. I hope you didn't miss me too much over the past few months. (I grant you that it is hard indeed to imagine the scenario in which anyone might miss me or this most dreadful blog, but hey—the world is full of strange and dreadful phenomena. Who am I to judge?) In any case, I wish I could tell you that I emerge today full of spirit and motivation to begin writing prolifically again, but that's simply not the case. I have, however, gotten through several books since I last wrote here, and will hopefully be reviewing a few of them over the next couple week. The first of the set is Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, which I finished on a plane from Los Angeles to New York last Christmas. To put it mildly, it was definitely not a merry read.

Sartre's first novel, and purportedly his best, Nausea takes the form of the diary of Antoine Roquentin, a listless French writer who has moved to the small (and fictional) town of Bouville to research the subject of a biography he is writing. Fixated on and horrified by his existence, however, Roquentin spends much of the novel documenting his feelings and sensations as he goes through his daily routine and interacts with both animate and inanimate objects. And while certain other characters do make appearances, including an ex-lover (Anny) and a local acquaintance (the Self-Taught Man), the novel is largely a collection of Roquentin's (actually, Sartre's) thoughts on consciousness and the meaning of life (or the lack thereof).

As with The Age of Reason (review here), I emerged from reading this novel uncertain of what to think. It doesn't have much of a plot to speak of, although it moves quickly enough, and ultimately, I wasn't really sure of what to make of the ending (which I will not spoil here).

But, on another level, it does what I consider to be a fantastic job of capturing the sensation of existential angst that I know so well. And akin to The Age of Reason, this novel too makes one focus—perhaps more so than is mentally sound—on where one is and where one is going (which, of course, is nowhere).

Reconciling that conflict enough to give a rating to this novel has proven to be difficult for me. Nausea is clearly a seminal work of existentialist philosophy, but it's not really much of a novel in the sense of it having a story (which, frankly, is of utmost importance to me in reading fiction). And perhaps it needn't be to accomplish its goal, to the extent its goal is capturing the essence of the feelings of restlessness and lack of meaning that most humans likely confront at one time or another during their (necessarily futile) lives. At the same time, there are definitely other novels that tackle the same subject and do it with much more of a plot. Camus's The Stranger and Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground (review here) immediately come to mind.

Ultimately, however, I can't bring myself to knock this book too much. It speaks the truth in many ways, and I actually think I probably should have read it before starting on the Roads to Freedom trilogy back in 2007. After all, what could be more true than this: Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance. Four stars of five.


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