68 of 76 people found the following review helpful
A good, but obscure book,
This review is from: Nausea (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I can see how it might be easy for someone to dislike this book: its central concern is the main character's inability to act, which for some might go against the very point of writing a story. But Sartre's genius comes in being able to highlight the many different sides to a seemingly simple problem.
This was (I think) Satrte's first published work of fiction, and really its an exposition not of his ability to handle multiple stories and different narrative styles, but of the philosophical ideals which he went on to write in Being and Nothingness. If you can't tolerate existentialism in its rawest form, its probably not worth trying to enjoy this book.
The story is essentially about a man who lives alone in a small French town, attempting to produce a book on the Marquis de Rollebon, an obscure french noble, having up until this point lived what he had previously believed to bed a fulfilled life. But in the writing of the book he soon comes to question what he is doing with his life now, and whether in fact he has ever lived. He soon finds himself falling apart, as he looks in the mirror, the deeper he looks the less he recognises in his own face.
The book is, due to its subject matter, a very isolating experience: Roquentin only really comes into contact with two people, both of whom he resents absolutely. Its the expression of an angry young man, angry as much at himself as at the world and other people. In this way it is hard to stomach, but this is what Sartre intended, hence the title. Every time Roquentin feels himself overwhelmed by his disgust at being alive he feels the nausea overcome him. This makes the book at times, for those who are able to empathise with Roquentin, very uncomfortable reading, but through this it s very rewarding, when we, with him, see some hope behind his anguish, some conclusion to it. Much like Camus's Le Etranger it is in the height of his suffering that he reaches real elation of self-knowledge.
In fact Camus's work is a good book to compare it to. That in itself is a fairly short and sparse work, and both describe a character who are confronted by the absurdity of their life. The difference however is the lack of a political edge to Sartre's work (though he does criticise humanism): Roquentin brings his suffering upon himself, while Camus's character is the victim of a legal system. For me, Sartre's approach is preferable, though others might prefer a character who is less passive than Sartre's.
Sartre's book is a book with we can question ourselves. Some might prefer his later more political orientated works, but for its intensity, Nausea is for me the more complete work. I gave it four only because it makes such difficult reading, describing both complex and disturbing issues about an individual's worth.