I have read this classic novel ( Nausea : 253 pages: Penguin Modern Classics)by Jean-Paul Sartre three times. Each reading gave me more meaning and more joy. Written in 1938 , it has had a powerful impact on literature as well as philosophy. It belongs to existential genre of literature.
It is the story of Antoine Roquentin , a French writer completing his historical research on the Marquis de Rollebon. The book is in the form of a diary. Antoine is a critical thinker and a lonely person , who struggles to come to terms with his life .In his solitude , he tries to discover the meaning of life but when he does not succeed , he becomes overwhelmed with an intolerable awareness of his purposeless existence , which he calls nausea. He has no dearth of money and stays in a hotel in Marseille in France to do his research .
One character called Autodidact ( also called Ogier P-), who was a bailiif’s clerk and whose acquaintance Roquentin had made at the Bouville library , is frequently mentioned in the book .Autodidact is The Self Taught Man (STM) and frequently discusses life and its meaning with Roquentin. Autodidact does not agree that there is no meaning in life .Rather he confronts his despair by turning into a Humanist. Before that , he reads all the books in the library , one by one but the way he reads ( books selected with authors’ names alphabetically, irrespective of the subject) . Such a knowledge does not give him any satisfaction . As a humanist , he wants to go to help and serve other human beings. Autodidact is the symbol of everything that has gone wrong with our education and our society. He keeps working towards a goal . Once one goal is reached, he needs to create a new one for himself. The again and again .This approach looks at life as a series of goals .To Antoine , it feels as though such an unexamined life is all quite pointless. Most of us approach life in a way similar to Autodidact’s approach. It is a life which is not examined because of endless pursuit of trivial knowledge and material goals. This is the question which this book Nausea forces us to confront.
In its final pages, Nausea is not a book without solution .Sartre says that our happiness is in our hands only. Only we can justify ,create and give meaning to our lives. But such a meaning cannot come out of writing a history book.(“history talks about what has existed –an existent can never justify the existence of another existent” ).It has to be some thing which was above existence , which could make people ashamed of their existence. It could help him in accepting himself.
Sartre speaks right to our soul. His style is intimate and beautiful. This is the kind of book we could and should read again and again, discovering some new meaning or detail every time . It is serious work of literature and some people may find it a heavy read . So , if you like serious literature and wish to be different from Ogier P-, I strongly recommend this book for you.