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Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

Nausea (original 1938; edition 2007)

by Jean-Paul Sartre, Richard Howard (Introduction), Lloyd Alexander (Translator)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,42038600 (3.77)123
Authors:Jean-Paul Sartre
Other authors:Richard Howard (Introduction), Lloyd Alexander (Translator)
Info:New Directions (2007), Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre (1938)

  1. 20
    Notes from Underground by Fedor Mikhaïlovitch Dostoïevski (shadowclast)
    shadowclast: Perhaps an obvious connection, but one that I nevertheless could not fail to return to again and again throughout my reading of Nausea. Is Antoine a man underground?
  2. 20
    The Words by Jean-Paul Sartre (John_Vaughan, John_Vaughan)
  3. 10
    The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (erezv)
  4. 10
    Homo Faber by Max Frisch (thecoroner)
  5. 10
    The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke (roby72)
  6. 10
    The Stranger by Albert Camus (roby72)
  7. 10
    The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley (kaityjames)
    kaityjames: Huxley views art as a pale imitation of objects as they ARE; Sartre finds existence disgusting and obscene, and art as a beautiful form above and beyond reality. Definitely compatible if you can dig Sartre's dark, existential language.
  8. 00
    Yes (Phoenix Fiction Series) by Thomas Bernhard (StevenTX)
  9. 00
    Les Mains Sales de Jean-Paul Sartre by Marc Buffat (John_Vaughan)
  10. 00
    Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline (thecoroner)
  11. 00
    The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector (Mouseear)
  12. 00
    The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (SamuelW)
    SamuelW: Although The Remains of the Day has none of Nausea's philosophical depth, there are close similarities in theme, plot and technique which make the two books a remarkable pair.
  13. 01
    Dead Certainties : Unwarranted Speculations by Simon Schama (Sea92)
    Sea92: Nausea is more of a philosophical work, but both authors explore chasm between the reality of the past and history as it is written. These are issues that historians must deal with.

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Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
In a life devoid of belief, stripped of illusion, and skeptical about the impressions of the senses, what can one actually know? What should one do? If life has no meaning, why even bother to live? "I exist--the world exists--and I know that the world exists. That's all." This is the conclusion of Antoine Roquentin, a French writer who chronicles his intellectual and emotional struggles in Sartre's novel Nausea.

Roquentin's crisis begins with the unsettling feeling that the objects of everyday life are not as they appear to be; they are even threatening. He feels manipulated by them. "Objects should not touch because they are not alive.... But they touch me, it is unbearable. I am afraid of being in contact with them as though they are living beasts." This fear produced in Roquentin a vertiginous feeling he calls Nausea.

As the days pass, the diarist's feeling shift. There are spells of normalcy when the Nausea does not strike him. He continues his work, researching the life of an 18th century French diplomat. But at one point he encounters a document that invalidates everything he has learned about his subject. It was all a pretense established for the sake of the man's legacy. History is nothing but lies. Its truths are forever hidden, if they existed at all. The past is meaningless. Roquentin's life's work is pointless.

Eventually Roquentin questions even his own right to exist. He sinks further into despair and Nausea as he wanders the streets of the port city where he has been working. He clings to the one incontrovertible fact: "I exist." And as for the rest of the world, "things are entirely what they appear to be--and behind them . . . there is nothing."

Many of Roquentin's ideas are expressed in his dialogues with a fellow library patron whom he knows only as the Self-Taught Man. This gentleman educates himself simply by reading the contents of the public library, shelf by shelf, in alphabetical order. He accepts everything, questions nothing, and is the novel's spokesman for conventional wisdom and community values. One of the novel's most interesting passages is when the Self-Taught Man defends humanism, insisting that there is a natural moral law. Roquentin refutes this with view that there is only the self in a life devoid of meaning or purpose.

Nausea is one of the key texts of Existentialism. Its message is simple and powerful. The prose--which includes Roquentin's dreams, hallucinations and occasional paranoid imaginings--is vivid and occasionally disturbing. This is an important novel which challenges our beliefs and perceptions, and is highly recommended. ( )
4 vote StevenTX | Jan 28, 2015 |
În fața Absurdului și a lipsei de semnificație a lumii nu prea simt Greață ci doar înstrăinare. ( )
  mariusgm | Sep 12, 2014 |
Depressing and boring...but you feel this guy's pain. EXISTENTIALIST ANGST- or as we say in French "pas de vin".
  Inky500 | Jun 14, 2014 |
This is Sartre's first novel and one of his best-known. I read it as part of an introductory class on Existentialism at the University of Chicago's Basic Program of Liberal Studies. Sartre's novel depicts the life of a dejected historian in a town similar to Le Havre, who becomes convinced that inanimate objects and situations encroach on his ability to define himself, on his intellectual and spiritual freedom, evoking in the protagonist a sense of nausea. Colin Wilson commented on this novel that "Roquentin feels insignificant before things. Without the meaning his Will would normally impose on it, his existence is absurd. Causality — Hume’s bugbear — has collapsed; consequently there are no adventures." While it is widely considered one of the canonical works of existentialism I did not find it as helpful as The Plague by Camus or The Trial by Kafka for my development of a better understanding of existentialism. I was not impressed with Sartre's approach to Roquentin, the main character, who seemed to lack direction, unable to process or even recognize reality. I found it difficult to appreciate Sartre's handling of this and other issues. Even the humor present in the actions of Ogier P., the autodidact, fell flat.

In his essay "What Is literature?", Sartre wrote, "On the one hand, the literary object has no substance but the reader's subjectivity . . . But, on the other hand, the words are there like traps to arouse our feelings and to reflect them towards us . . . Thus, the writer appeals to the reader's freedom to collaborate in the production of the work." His appeal did not work well for me in this novel. Perhaps another time it will. ( )
2 vote jwhenderson | Dec 25, 2013 |
Penguin Twentieth Century Classics edition, translated by Robert Baldick (no other translations tried. Also, quick Beavis & Butthead style snigger at the name.)

Five stars doesn’t mean I agree with every single word. (This book gets quite a few lower ratings from people who dislike it because they don’t think like the protagonist – intelligent people who don’t usually review that way.) It’s fascinating, though; the level of detail is beautiful. And the milieu helps a lot. I love hearing about mid twentieth-century France this way, but set the same stuff in contemporary Britain or America, with the same tone, and I wouldn’t be nearly so interested.

I can’t help thinking of Roquentin as simply being in a state of sensitivity, almost involuntary acute observation. What he sees, factually and physically is remarkably similar to wandering about a town walking on the air of mindfulness. Noticing. I am also reminded of the wired state of taking everything in that precedes information overload, or the frozen photograph-memory of trauma, or being in love or acutely missing someone when almost everything in the world can have a connection to them. The feelings attached to these states and to his existential nausea are each emphatically different, so unlike one another that imagined sequentially they would probably remind everyone of the whole-body physicality of emotion.

Roquentin is also in a phase of transition; the book takes place over a short period in which he realises he needs to set aside what he’s been doing and go somewhere else; his mind and body seem to be forcing the issue. (Those of you who’ve lived in the same house and been in the same job for ten years probably won’t know this so well but I recognised it – one of those times of wrestling with various ideas internally, eventually precipitating change. Only one or two friends at the time ever tend to hear about it. Other people just see the outward events.)

The actual nausea at existence is so beautifully described that it was intriguing. Especially because it was so often triggered in Roquentin (I keep wanting to write Roquefort because Roquefort cheese smells…) by things which I would most associate with mindfulness. This guy experiences this stuff and I couldn’t help but accept that in a mindful sort of way. (And be interested and pleased that this is labelled as philosophy, that art and literature provides room for different ways of labelling or not labelling experiences and states of mind.) Even if it is puzzling to me to experience horror at things which are mostly beautiful and curious in the randomness of their existence, rather than at, for example, various systems created by humans.

Apparently teenagers tend to identify wholesale with Nausea. I doubt I would have much. My main concerns, aside from being ill a lot, were looking forward to getting away from people I didn’t like, looking forward to finding people I did like and consuming culture which would help me connect with the latter. Although I spent a lot of time alone due to a mixture of strict parenting, tiredness and illness and not knowing many other kids I liked, my mindset was essentially social. Roquentin seems like one of those individuals I’ve usually envied who, socially, appear to need no one much but themselves. He does have feelings for Anny but his world hardly seems changed by them. (I have developed a very high tolerance for solitude but the amount of time I spend thinking about other people and conversations I have had, or might like to have, with some of them is high. Roquentin is almost entirely concerned with his immediate surroundings and with abstract ideas.)

There are moments which chime loudly: certain reflections on time – a few pages in he talks of what since being a small child I’d thought of as “the nothingyness of three o’clock”. And I’ve also experienced those flashes of disgust at appearance and perceptions of a person’s looks changing (but he doesn’t mention the concomitant flashes of beauty which I also experience).

Philosophically, the book became most alive for me during the conversation with the Autodidact on p.160-164. His ideas, disdained by Roquentin as Humanist are very close to my own. They incorporate some distant agape or Buddhist metta - though these days partly through bitter experience and partly through seeing the need for variety and humour and a place for both negative and positive, I’m not so preachy about them as I was, say, four years ago. He repeats other ideas from one of his books which I quite agree with. Finding something in which you can become immersed, process or Flow. Or, my usual shorthand if people will know what I’m talking about: squirrels.

First time I've ever posted an image in a review. Don't worry, I won't be making a habit of it. Ah, there is a sizing problem. CBA to fix it just now. Have a link: http://xkcd.com/167/

(Hares are the most inspiring animals I’ve ever seen though. Less than ten feet away, and so tame they were happy to stop and eat, and even looked right at me.)

Problems occur when things block the possibility of squirrels. Disability, chronic poverty, long-term caring responsibilities - worst when two or more of these occur together - being the ones I’ve seen most through work and life. There aren’t always answers. Sometimes there are just brick walls.

On that basis, it’s easy to say of Roquentin and his like “some people don’t know they’re born” . That too is dismissive, lacking in understanding of individual experience and frame of reference, and selectively prejudiced. About as useful as a British kid’s actual unwanted serving of Brussels sprouts is to a five year old in Ethiopia that same night. (But I agree that it’s easy to envy his situation. What I would do if I were him…!)

I thought the book was excellent already and then Sartre threw a curveball. What about when the best ideas belong to someone who would be almost universally considered repugnant? Do certain actions devalue everything about a person, seems to be the implication, or can we still like and approve of certain things about them? (This, which was very pertinent, left me longing for a particular conversation with a particular person whose opinion I desperately wanted … as per the above.)

All this and I haven’t even mentioned my very long history with this book. It started with the existentialist nanny (who sounds like a good story title). Actually, an Eng Lit student who was doing one module on Existentialism. She was lovely, one of the ones who stayed for a couple of years who I now look on as part of what glues me together. (There were thirty-odd of them…) She had these turquoise Penguin Twentieth Century Classics editions and so if I read Camus or Sartre or Kafka it must be in one of those. Whilst I was very interested in some of her books and read them later, these never really attracted me. And I had no idea they were commonly read by teenagers and students. (Any idea of that sort of reading came a few years later from Will Self’s Cult Book slot on the Mark Radcliffe show. If he did ever cover these writers I was away or I’d fallen asleep before I could press Record.) At university I didn’t meet anyone who was into them. It wasn’t until I was 27. (One of my more cynical friends criticised him for “behaving like a teenage goth” but he never quite lost his magic for me, even when one particular thing made me decide I’d had enough after quite a lot of subsequent years of friendship.) I asked him for a book on pessimism… he gave me The Book of Disquiet but I didn’t manage to read much: I couldn’t deal with the way it made even things which I’d quite liked look depressing. What I was actually looking for at that time was what’s inside Sartre’s Nausea. Can’t remember why I didn’t actually read it that year. I meant to. Then there was another transition and then I was busy. And then a while later I was living with someone. Another of these beautiful hurting near-geniuses who’d little in the way of post O/GCSE education. He used to borrow my “difficult” books and read them whilst stoned/ in comedown and commuting. Not long before things fell apart he borrowed Nausea and every time since when I tried to read it I’d be consumed by the idea that I was in his head at that time and I couldn’t get past three pages because I didn’t want to think about that.
But this time I got past it, thanks to being in a lovely location. (Odd holiday reading, I know, but it works.) By the fourth or fifth page I was consumed in the story itself and my own responses to it. I briefly recalled that he had said meditation was pointless. And it helped that he’d abandoned Nausea about page 80 (going on to read the entirety of Infinite Jest in about ten days under previously stated conditions) which left me with most of the book all to myself and all my other friendlier remembered people again. Now it’s odd to think that the memory of him ever marked it at all because it feels so much mine and it’s others I’d want to talk about it with. ( I hope I haven’t been too rude about him here because that’s not my intention.)

There is so much more to it than I thought there would be, and though I’m 15-20 years older than what’s thought of as its typical reader, I’m rather glad to have brought some of those extra years to it.

Read 24-26 Sept 2013 ( )
2 vote antonomasia | Sep 26, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Sartre's name, I understand, is associated with a fashionable brand of cafe philosophy and since for every so-called "existentialist" one finds quite a few "suctorialists" (if I may coin a polite term), this made-in- England translation of Sartre's first novel, "La Nausée" (published in Paris in 1938) should enjoy some success. It is hard to imagine except in a farce) a dentist persistently pulling out the wrong tooth. Publishers and translators, however, seem to get away with something of that sort. Lack of space limits me to only these examples of Mr. Alexander's blunders.

» Add other authors (36 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jean-Paul Sartreprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aardweg, H.P. v.d.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Alexander, LloydTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baldick, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carp, E. A. D. E.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carruth, HaydenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Caruso, PaoloContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fonzi, BrunoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mannerkorpi, JuhaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'He is a fellow without any collective significance, barely an individual.'
L. F. Céline, The Church
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These notebooks were found among the papers of Antoine Roquentin. ("Editors' Note")
The best thing would be to write down events from day to day.
"I live in the past. I take everything that has happened to me and arrange it. From a distance like that, it doesn't do any harm, you'd almost let yourself be caught in it. Our whole story is fairly beautiful. I give it a few prods and it makes a whole string of perfect moments. Then I close my eyes and try to imagine that I'm still living inside it."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811217000, Paperback)

The classic Existentialist novel, with a new introduction by renowned poet, translator, and critic Richard Howard.

Winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature, Jean-Paul Sartre, French philosopher, critic, novelist, and dramatist, holds a position of singular eminence in the world of letters. Among readers and critics familiar with the whole of Sartre's work, it is generally recognized that his earliest novel, La Nausée (first published in 1938), is his finest and most significant. It is unquestionably a key novel of the twentieth century and a landmark in Existentialist fiction.

Nausea is the story of Antoine Roquentin, a French writer who is horrified at his own existence. In impressionistic, diary form he ruthlessly catalogues his every feeling and sensation. His thoughts culminate in a pervasive, overpowering feeling of nausea which "spreads at the bottom of the viscous puddle, at the bottom of our time—the time of purple suspenders and broken chair seats; it is made of wide, soft instants, spreading at the edge, like an oil stain." Roquentin's efforts to come to terms with life, his philosophical and psychological struggles, give Sartre the opportunity to dramatize the tenets of his Existentialist creed.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:00 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

French writer who is horrified at his own existence. In impressionistic, diary form he ruthlessly catalogues his every feeling and sensation. His thoughts culminate in a pervasive, overpowering feeling of nausea which "spreads at the bottom of the viscous puddle, at the bottom of our time the time of purple suspenders and broken chair seats. Roquentin's efforts to come to terms with life, his philosophical and psychological struggles, give Sartre the opportunity to dramatize the tenets of his Existentialist creed.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

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