Love and Nausea is, in many ways, the epitome of the expression “don’t judge a book by its cover”. The novel itself has a front cover that suggests a trashy romance novel, filled with details of sordid encounters and high-powered women stalking the streets, looking for that perfect pair of shoes with which to capture the heart of the businessman of their dreams. The kind of novel written by women who genuinely believe men are attracted to them on the basis of their shoes. However, what lies inside is practically the opposite in every way.
Funny, clever and wonderfully touching, Love and Nausea is – as The Times summarised perfectly – “An existentialist version of Adrian Mole, with flashes of acute satire”. It follows the life of Robert, from confused teenager, determined to experience Jean-Paul Sartre’s nausea for himself, through the emotional turmoil of being madly in love with a fiercely independent feminist, to a time of radical self-realisation and coming to terms with himself and the world around him. A fantastically accurate insight into the mind of a wannabe existentialist, Love and Nausea recounts Robert’s constant attempts to be a free agent, entirely in control of a life of adventure, whilst in reality being a slave to his overwhelming desire for middle class simplicity and security. His position is both heart breaking and hilarious, as he struggles to force together his liberal philosophies and conservative upbringing, resulting in a perpetual state of agony, as Sartre might say.
Robert is a fantastically constructed character, as is Eva – the love of his life. Both are fanatical existentialists in love with freedom, yet both are too English to ever fully embrace it. Robert finds himself constantly trying to be somebody he’s not to please other people, whilst all the time hating himself for doing so. Eva, by contrast, is so much herself that it’s overwhelming, yet doesn’t know how to handle it when Robert finally gains the courage to be the strong-minded and independent person she thinks she wants him to be.
Although the booked was intriguing enough that I could have read it from cover to cover in one sitting, I actually found myself putting it down for days, to muse on the events and mull them over in my own time. David Wilson has written a fantastic combination of a funny and clever novel and a critique on liberal philosophies and the middle class way of life. Excellent reading, especially if you are familar with works like The Outsider and Nausea.