Wednesday, 21 February 2007


Yes, I am nauseous. The book is nauseous too. It's also nauseating. So actually, it's pretty appropriately named. Jean-Paul Sartre's 'Nausea' is the story of Antoine Roquentin, a scholar who throughout the book suffers the existential angst of Sartre's philosophy - ie. he flips out and realises that his life is meaningless, and eventually decides that he has full responsibility for giving his own life purpose. This takes the form of literal bouts of nausea and dizziness and intense focus on small objects or events. Other characters feature briefly, and form a comparison point for Roquentin's revelations - his ex-girlfiend Anny, the Autodidact who he bumps into frequently, among a few others.

This book I guess was meant to be a novellistic representation of Satre's existential philosophy, and I suppose it kind of does that quite well. It's pretty unpleasant way to learn about it though, and I think I would prefer to read the encyclopaedia account of it. If you really want to take the fiction approach though, you'll probably get the picture from a chapter or two of this book - if you find it as draining as I did, don't bother struggling to the end, because it doesn't really get better. This book felt to me like reading someone's first person experiences of repeated bad trips. It's just wah wah wah wah wah.

One thing I will say about this book, is that there are some quite beautiful passages of prose. If you can get past the fact that you're totally bored off your nut, and let the words wash over you, some of it is quite stunning. But if that's what you want, maybe go and read 'Lolita' instead.

Overall, this book just reinforced that idea that I never seem to be able to put into practice: if you hate the first couple of chapters of a book, you'll probably hate the rest. I can't seem to put a book down until I prove to myself that it doesn't get better. This one didn't. It probably also didn't help that I read this article from the New Yorker about Sartre's and de Beauvoir's relationship, which turns out to be way dodgier than I knew. They both used people pretty badly, and I ended up having a hard time respecting the thoughts of a man who I wouldn't've respected much had I met him in real life. Ick. Maybe that's a bit un-objective, but actually I think it also has a lot to do with the fact that Roquentin is not a very likeable character either (modelled on his author?), and it's pretty hard to enjoy a book whose main character is repelling.

The summary? If you want to know about existentialism, go and look it up. If you want an enjoyable book, try something else.

A couple of weeks ago, Tom and I went to see Stranger Than Fiction. I really loved this film. It's about Harold Crick, a dull accountant who (when a voice in his head starts narrating his every move) suddenly realises that he's the main character in a book, and he's about to get killed off. It's a great idea, and is executed really well - it's not shallow, but neither does it delve so deeply into the idea that it gets bogged down in inconsistencies.

Will Ferrell is excellent (and I never thought I'd say that), as are Maggie Gyllenhall (the anti-IRS love interest), Dustin Hoffmann (the psychologist) and Emma Thompson (the author). It's got some really clever, and funny moments, and I suspect there are enough subtle jokes that if I went to see it again I'd catch a few that I missed the first time around. The cinematography is nice too, with bright happy colours and some appropriate but subtle special effects, and the soundtrack's not bad either.

This movie is exactly the kind of movie I like to see - feel-good but still clever, with enough depth but without getting bogged down in it. As my boss said though, it unfortunatly won't do well, because it's not weird and 'deep' enough to appeal to the 'arty' crowd, but it's not mainstream enough to appeal to the Will Ferrell crowd. The sad thing is, I think it's a movie that almost anyone would enjoy. I liked it enough that I will totally be buying the DVD when it comes out. How would I describe this film in one word? Quirky. No wonder I liked it.

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