I have discovered where the stereotype of the depressed, smoking Frenchman, who stares into his tea in cafés and despairs about the pointless of the universe, comes from. I have found navel gazing in its purest form, and I have stared into its whiney, shrivelled heart. This novel had some fantastic ideas and concepts behind it, but blimey did it test my patience at times.
Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre is short, it’s weird, and it’s depressing. None of these things are necessarily negatives in a book – there are a lot of similarities here to Notes from Underground and The Stranger, both which I really enjoyed. In Nausea, though, I never found myself convinced by the protagonist’s struggles. He felt more like an abstraction than a person.
While the Underground Man was clearly isolated and confused and the story around him a bit polemic, his problems were human and relatable, if extreme. Antoine Roquentin, however, felt as though he had been created with the sole purpose of exploring existentialism, which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but every problem he faces is metaphysical and absurdly theoretical. This means the human drama which is also explored comes across as hollow because we just don’t know him or anyone else in this novel as a person, only as walking ideologies.
There were some interesting observations about the way we should appreciate existence on a moment to moment basis, but it all felt more like a message with a story than a story with a message. I’ll be reading Sartre’s non-fiction if I pick up his writing again, as at least that way I’ll know exactly what I’m in for.