review: the age of reason

03 January 2015

August Strindberg (Swedish, 1849-1912), Storm Landscape, October 1894. Paper-panel, 32 x 23.5 cm

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: bff
pages: 397
review written: 1.1.2015
originally published: 1945

title: The Age of Reason
author: Jean-Paul Sartre
The first novel of Sartre's monumental Roads to Freedom series, The Age of Reason is set in 1938 and tells of Mathieu, a French professor of philosophy who is obsessed with the idea of freedom. As the shadows of the Second World War draw closer -- even as his personal life is complicated by his mistress's pregnancy -- his search for a way to remain free becomes more and more intense.
(summary: goodreads)

My thoughts:
The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre is an existential fiction novel published during the existential, post-war movement in France. Existentialism is a philosophy that highlights the importance of individualism and free will. Existentialism is a vast philosophy of which there are many facets. One might hear of an "existential crisis" or a crisis of a major issue all people must face such as loss or relationships. In this book, Sartre explores both individualism and that I received from my best friend for my eighteenth birthday this past September. The title is a line from a dialogue within the book. You'll have an "aha!" moment when you read it because finding the title of a book within the story always produces that sort of reaction. Existentialism is in essence the enemy of rationality or reason and existentialism is the philosophy that Sartre "founded". The book cover is not exactly beautiful, but in my opinion does a nice job of representing the book. The white and muted green colours, the light, free-floating dots that etch the author's name, and the very small, lower-cased title towards the top of the cover all represent aspects of the book. The story was muted, the concept of freedom (the dots on the cover)  were proven throughout the story, and the lower case title emphasises the existential notion that an act is more important than the word.
In The Age of Reason, Sartre explores the lives of Mathieu, his mistress Marcelle, his friends, his young crush, and the other people in his life The main storyline follows Mathieu's quest to gain his freedom, which requires a sum of money that he does not posses and that he must find in a a couple of days. As I read the book, I thought I hated it. The only reason I kept reading was to have the satisfaction of finishing a book (something I haven't done for a while). However, upon finishing, I realised I actually liked it. It's this paradoxical quality that makes me interested in Sartre. After I read his first novel, Nausea, I felt a similar sensation.
As I read, I noticed that Mathieu was liked by everyone. Even the people that seemed to not like him actually liked him. Yet, when Mathieu was the narrator, that level of respect towards himself was diminished. I related to that sort of self-loathing, although "loathing" is too strong a word. Although people around me might like me, I'm partially blind to what there is about me that there is to like. Apart from all the parts of the book I disliked, or simply couldn't understand, this was one aspect I enjoyed.
I liked how different and how similar all the characters were in relation to each other. To achieve that sort of complex and sublime relationship scheme is, as I might say from my experience as a noob amateur writer, incredibly difficult. I often rant that characters and how well they're written are what make a book memorable. The characters in this novel were well-written, but I hated them all. Perhaps it was because they weren't the noble ideal or the hero-type, but accurate portrayal of humans. I disliked the characters because they were not like me, although I don't claim to be the "noble ideal."
The plot was definitely original, compared to what I've read. I liked how Sartre managed to mix the sub-plots of the sub-characters to Mathieu's. Each character was significant and each character played a role, even the waiter or bartender. In many books, those characters are often ephemeral, but in this book, they're presence is repeated.
Unlike Nausea, which focused on a single man and his individuality, The Age of Reason explores the intricate nature of relationships and how they conflict with the notion of individuality. I found it a refreshing read. It didn't affect me like Nausea did, nor did it impress me beyond belief, so I've given it a rating of three out of six umbrellas. It's a lovely read for those who like philosophical fiction, thought provoking books, or simply those who desire something different.
Similar reads:

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
  • Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

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