First of all, what is it all about? This was Sartre's first novel and according to himself, the best of his works. Sartre was an existentialist and his life's studies and research. This you realise when you read the book. The main character, Mr. Antoine Roquentin, a historian lives in Bouville (a fictional seaport town), where he is trying to write a book about an 18th century, French, political figure. During the winter he is taken over by a sort of sickness he calls nausea. It effects everything he does. He looks at everything around him, how people look, what they are doing, how the trees look, why they are blowing in the wind, the waves of the sea, the cafés, restaurants. He tries to figure out what is existing. A meaning to why they are there. Why he is there.
All his questions on absolutely everything happening around him, almost drove me crazy. It is at times very depressing, since however he looks at things, there seems to be no meaning with them. His relationships with various people; an autodidact, Francoise, a café owner and Anny his ex girl-friend, he can't see in a clear light. He is disgusted with everything. While reading I came to think of Kafka. Not that I am an expert on him, but the whole idea of however you turn there is no way out. The book is like a dark, never ending maze and in the end you don't know if you are going to make it through.
According to people who know, in the ending of the book he accepts that there is an indifference between the physical world and the aspirations we have on it. The nausea does not necessarily need to be seen as regret but could also be seen as an opportunity. We are free to make our own meaning of life, but this also brings responsibility and commitment. Without it, it will have no meaning.
Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964, which he declined, saying it is merely a function of a bourgeois institution. The Nobel Foundation gave him the prize "for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age."
On the contrary to what one would think, at least me, the book is rather easy to read. We follow Roquentin during a few months, his research, his friends, eating, writing and then of course, all the reflections on everything around him. Although all this questioning drove me mad at times, it still gives you something to think about.