Published in 1938, Nausea is the first novel by Jean-Paul Sartre and represent an attempt to express his developing philosophy of Existential in fictional form. A quarter-century later, Sartre would be awarded—and reject on the basis of it being opposition to his entire philosophical foundation—the Nobel Prize for Literature. True to the underlying tenet of that philosophy—that existence precedes essence—the novel explores the relationship of one’s perception of the world to the reality that exists around in the form of a diary written by an average if introverted resident who comes to realize many of his perceptions are not the result of free will, but ideological inscriptions written upon due to the circumstances of his birth.
It is this revelation of the absurdity of existence in which so much affects one that is so far out of their control that lends the novel its unusual title. The initial recognition that one’s freedom is constantly impinged upon by external factors often go unrecognized fill the diarist with a profound sense of nausea. This sick feeling that all is not right and that there is no escaping the wrongness of it is that existential angst you may read about in other books or heard mentioned in movies. Such has been the influence of Sartre’s first novel that many aspects of philosophical components have worked their way into the cultural mainstream even if very few of those people who use terms like “existential threat” could tell you anything about the actual narrative of Nausea.
A situation which might well have filled any other author with a purely physical response of nausea. Among scholars and academics, however, Nausea is considered a canonical work espousing Existentialist philosophy and is viewed as one of the most successful attempts to blend abstract philosophical concepts with the literary necessities of storytelling engendered within the novelist genre.