Jean-Paul Sartre Nausea (1938)
Driving back from CD Exchange I slipped on my newly purchased Lazer Guided Melodies by Spiritualized, skipping straight to the sublime 'Shine a Light' which I hadn't heard in many years. Completely unexpected, as the track played I was in tears, and I realised I hadn't listened to this album since my friend Andrew died in February 2009. Andrew had taped it for me, along with the music of many other artists who became firm favourites and whom I never would have listened to but for his recommendation. He was a good friend, a huge and positive influence during a slightly crappy period living in south-east London, and I would do absolutely anything were it possible to bring him back and give him the life he should have had rather than the one he ended up with.
I first read Nausea because Andrew insisted I read it, explaining that it was quite unlike any other novel. I've now read it five or six times and I'm still not sure what to make of it, or at least whether there's anything to make of it beyond that which has already presented itself. My first impression was that Nausea might to some degree describe what it was like being Andrew at least part of the time, and I found the novel dense and difficult. Then, during one of those days so bad that you can no longer even be bothered to feel pissed off, it suddenly made absolute sense, and telling this to Andrew, he agreed that a very specific frame of mind is necessary for full appreciation of Sartre's debut novel. I've re-read a few times since, and it's always been the same, always dependent on one being just the right hue of something or other that isn't exactly melancholic.
Sartre's Antoine Roquentin lives a solitary existence, sat alone in a cafe or bar, occasional conversations with a self-taught acquaintance whom he doesn't really like that much, and an increasing sense of repulsion, a sense that no object or event is a thing in itself, and that all is tainted by his own understanding - yer basic existential nausea, not to be confused with anything so obvious as self-hatred. I could have a go at getting into the details but it would probably be easier if you just read the book, keeping in mind that it works best when approached from a quite specific perspective, and will probably never be adapted for the big screen with Bruce Willis playing the pensive historian Roquentin.
This time, for some reason, Nausea works despite my being generally happy. Possibly it feels like I'm reading Andrew's biography. The themes are soft but profound, and far too subtle for anything that could be distilled into a neat sentence upon a Wikipedia page, which is I suppose why Nausea is a novel rather than a manifesto.