Nausea Book Summary - Nausea Book explained in key points
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Nausea summary

Explore and Question the Very Essence of Existence

4.3 (197 ratings)
22 mins

Brief summary

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre is a philosophical novel that delves into the existential crisis of its protagonist, exploring themes of alienation, consciousness, and the meaninglessness of life.

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    Antoine’s diary

    Before the story begins, Nausea greets us with a fictional editor’s note. We learn that we’re about to read the unaltered diary of a Parisian historian called Antoine Roquentin. The diary entries are from 1932, when Antoine settled in the (fictional) French town of Bouville to complete his history on the (again, fictional) Marquis de Rollebon.

    Then the diary begins. Antoine explains that he wants to start journaling because he’s experiencing some unsettling changes in his feelings and perceptions.

    He tells us about his lonely life in Bouville. He inhabits a grim hotel room and spends his days in the local library researching. In between, he goes for walks, hangs out at cafés and bars, and has casual sex with women. We learn about the people in his life – an ex-lover named Anny whom he can’t quite forget; his chatty neighbor Lucie; and a peculiar autodidact known as the Self-Taught Man whom he met at the library.

    As he goes about his solitary days, Antoine begins noticing odd changes in himself. He experiences moments of inexplicable anxiety and revulsion toward his surroundings. He becomes intensely bored with his research subject and has trouble looking in the mirror. He also feels a strange sense of dread emanating from the physical objects around him. For instance, when he picks up a pebble on the beach, he feels sick to his stomach.

    One day, Roquentin goes to a café in hope of running into owner Françoise, his current casual affair. When he learns that Françoise is out of town, Roquentin is seized by a terrible feeling that he describes as nausea. He leaves the café to distract himself with a game of cards and a movie. But even through the fleeting joy of those experiences, the nausea sticks with him.


    In the opening chapters, Sartre introduces the major existentialist themes that run through the novel. Protagonist Antoine begins to grapple with the meaninglessness of existence, feeling repulsed by the objects and people around him. Sartre’s spare, observational prose establishes a bleak mood that reflects Antoine’s growing alienation from the world. 

    Antoine’s existential struggle has many parallels to Sartre’s own life. Sartre began writing Nausea in 1932, while living abroad in Berlin on a fellowship. Like his protagonist Antoine, he was supposed to be writing a historical biography. Many of Sartre’s ideas about alienation, freedom, and responsibility stem from his own experience with anxiety and depression during that time. 

    Later in his life, Sartre explained that he had experimented with the hallucinogenic mescaline shortly before writing the novel. It caused in him effects similar to the nausea Antoine describes.

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    What is Nausea about?

    Nausea (1938) is a philosophical novel that explores daily life through the lens of existentialism. The story follows Antoine Roquentin, a solitary historian living in a French seaport town, as he grapples with feelings of alienation, the search for freedom, and the meaninglessness of human existence.

    Nausea Review

    Nausea (1938) is a thought-provoking piece by Jean-Paul Sartre that explores the existential crisis of the protagonist and provides insight into the human condition. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • The book offers a deep exploration of the inner struggles and psychological turmoil faced by individuals, inviting readers to ponder the nature of existence.
    • Anchored in raw emotions and introspection, it delves into themes of alienation, freedom, and the meaning of life, making it a profound and intellectually stimulating read.
    • With its vivid descriptions and intense philosophical reflections, the book keeps readers engaged, challenging conventional beliefs and provoking thought long after the final page.

    Who should read Nausea?

    • Students of philosophy, history, and culture
    • Fans of avant-garde and experimental literature
    • All those grappling with the big questions of life

    About the Author

    Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980) was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist, and critic. Considered one of the leading figures in twentieth-century French philosophy, he was an early proponent of existentialism – a philosophical school that emphasizes individual existence, freedom, and choice. Sartre explored these themes in literary works like Nausea and Being and Nothingness.

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    Nausea FAQs 

    What is the main message of Nausea?

    Nausea is a profound exploration of existentialism and the absurdity of human existence.

    How long does it take to read Nausea?

    The reading time for Nausea varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in 15 minutes.

    Is Nausea a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Nausea is worth reading as it offers a thought-provoking examination of the human condition and existential angst.

    Who is the author of Nausea?

    The author of Nausea is Jean-Paul Sartre.

    What to read after Nausea?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Nausea, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre
    • Ethics by Baruch Spinoza
    • The Stranger by Albert Camus
    • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
    • Being and Time by Martin Heidegger
    • The River of Doubt by Candice Millard
    • The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
    • Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein
    • The Idea Is the Easy Part by Brian Dovey
    • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson