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3.4  ·  Rating Details ·  2,224 Ratings  ·  156 Reviews
A fictional autobiography of a young writer which takes the reader to Canada, Portugal, Greece, Turkey and elsewhere. This story of love, sex and ambiguity is the first novel by the Canadian author of the award-winning short-story collection, "The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios".
Paperback, 331 pages
Published April 7th 2003 by Faber (first published 1996)
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(showing 1-30)
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Apr 21, 2008 tee rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-own, favourites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I can only assume that part of the reason this book has such a low rating is the horrified fans of Life of Pi, who, confused by Ang Lee’s pretty movie, remember that story as a cute fairytale about a kid and a tiger in a boat and are still high on fairytale dust. Oh, shocker! Yann Martel writes about sex. Cover your eyes and hide away. He uses the word cock, too, in reference to something other than one of his beloved and frequently used animal metaphors. Nothing metaphorical about the cocks in ...more
Jun 10, 2008 Kevan rated it did not like it
It is SO HARD FOR ME TO LIKE THIS BOOK. It's like somebody told Yann Martel: "You know what's really hot in contemporary lit right now? Poetry, transgender issues, and made-up memoirs. YOU should write one."

People read autobiographies because the personalities behind them have led fascinating, meaningful existences. If you're going to MAKE UP an autobiography, you have the opportunity to magically create some of that aforementioned fascinating-ness: "There, have some meaning! BAMMO, be a fascin
Kathleen Dixon
Apr 08, 2009 Kathleen Dixon rated it liked it
I've just read through a number of other reviews on this book, and as one finds with almost every book ever read, the opinions are polarised.

There were some things about this book I really enjoyed. I enjoy the 2-column pages where there is an original language beside an English translation, or a conversation in some other language while a completely nonplussed English monologue goes along beside it ... What fun! And a lot of the things he says about the Self are things I have thought, or wondere
Graham Herrli
Apr 30, 2012 Graham Herrli rated it it was ok
Self has good characterization and fluid writing, but nothing to hold it all together. The descriptions are vibrant but not thought-provoking. I enjoyed the use of the novel as a format to adumbrate imaginary stories and novels (those "written" by the narrator) which would never work as actual books, a technique also found in Slaughterhouse Five and the stories of Jorge Luis Borges. In Self, Martel uses various experimental postmodernistic techniques (such as starting Chapter Two on the last pag ...more
Feb 02, 2008 Kim rated it really liked it
I'd read 'Life of Pi' a few years ago, so when this book came to me as a birthday gift I was excited to read another book by Yann Martel. It took me a few pages to get used to the writing style presented here - a mix of flashbacks and future shots and short bits that didn't make much sense at the moment. After the first 20 pages or so, I could barely put it down and fell in love with the style. A great book, though some of the events are a bit mystifying and other ones downright tragic and heart ...more
Miss Adeo
Oct 15, 2014 Miss Adeo rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is a great example of how amazing writing can carry an entire book. I tried to explain to a friend why I loved this book and why they should read it but literally I've no idea how to explain. Yann Martel has a talent for story telling. I think unlike a lot of readers because I read 'life of Pi' about 7 years ago (when it first came out), I wasn't expecting anything like that when I picked this up. This was a story about life, about love, travel, growth, language, friendship, men, women sex, ...more
For a brief time, towards the end of the novel, I was actively enjoying reading it. A bit before that, it was at least tolerable. But with the late game-changing plot-twist, the book lost me.

The novel is about the life of a person who is biologically born (and identifies)as a (cis) man. Then, when he wakes up on his 18th birthday, he discovers he has turned into a biological/cis female, and begins identifying as such.

There is no surprise, no change of psyche. She just goes "oh huh I'm a girl no
Darcy McLaughlin
To me Self is an example of a novel being stronger as fragments, rather than the sum of its parts. Martel's first book is an adventurous experiment in narrative, one that features numerous languages and constantly forces the reader to question it. As a full length novel, I think Self fails because it is just too ambitiously scattered. Perhaps intentionally, the book is similar to the attempted stories written by the narrator. There is plenty thought and big ideas behind the writing, but they tak ...more
Jan 23, 2014 Kalen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I just don't think I understood this book. It was written like a diary but there were (almost) no chapters or dates. One of the comments on the back of my copy of the book says the novel is a meditation on identity but I only really noticed one aspect of identity and that was an exploration on sexuality. So I didn't really notice too much exploration into the character's identity.

One of the issues I have with this novel is that it's about a writer trying to write a novel. I think this is a them
Dec 03, 2012 CynthiaA rated it liked it
I am seriously at a loss about how to rate this book. I felt almost voyeuristic when reading this at times. I wanted to shake or comfort the main character frequently. There were parts that dragged and dragged. More than once, I considred setting it aside and moving to something else, but then I would remember that beautiful bit at the beginning describing love as fish in his eyes, and I would give it another shot. And would then find another beautiful snippet that would keep me going. I had to ...more
Jul 17, 2008 Evie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sebastien Swift
Feb 25, 2010 Sebastien Swift rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's almost unbelievable that this and Life of Pi were written by the same author.
The tone of Self is so absurdly different from Pi's. It offers no conclusion to speak of, nor explanation, it is ragingly atheist almost to the point of being nihilistic.

And yet it is just as enlightening.

That is to say, it's a much more difficult read. Self holds your hand less than the grand majority of books, offers no guidance as to what you are supposed to grasp from it, yet it offers so much to the philosoph
Kate Krake
Feb 24, 2010 Kate Krake rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 07, 2011 Carlene rated it did not like it
I was so disappointed, since it was recommended to me by two different friends whose tastes I respect. It made me think: am I missing something here?

There were a few sections that I really enjoyed - Yann Martel's descriptions are always so colourful - but as a whole, I just found the book sloppy and confusing. Parts of it just outright annoyed me. Maybe it's because I don't think [spoilers removed]. I got to the end and flipped through the last few pages, thinking "is this rea
Apr 12, 2008 Maureen rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people who don't read all the way to the end
For the first five-sixths of this novel I was thinking, "Ohmigod this is the platonic ideal for novels. This is hands down the best book I have ever read." It's a faux-memoir about a person who magically and for no apparent reason fluctuates between gender, which is bizarre yet totally fascinating, and the language and storytelling are utter rhapsody.

And then, at the five-sixths point the WORST POSSIBLE THING HAPPENED: It turned into a concrete poem. About rape. Yann Martel, why did you do it??
May 28, 2007 nina rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
This is by far the worst book I have ever read. I believe that I frequently threw it across the room while reading it, which is a testament to my stubborness because I still finished it.
The main character of the book has an interesting history, but everything becomes convoluted when he changes sexes in the middle of the book (not through a sex change: the character unexplainably becomes a woman). The writing is strong and paints beautiful pictures, but the plot was too twisted for me to enjoy.
Aug 10, 2008 mia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fic-lit
okay, so when i started out reading this book, i had some good hopes for it. i laughed out loud a few times. and there was some great imagery in the description of our eyes being pools with fish in them. beautiful words, really. and then, i just kept getting lost in descriptions that i didn't care about at all-- that weren't even ideal to telling the story (whatever story it was). toward the middle and through to the end it just became cumbersome. i basically MADE myself finish it because i was ...more
Nov 05, 2007 Casey rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
coming off of life of pi, i had high expectations. i saw potential in the opening pages, in the play with gender identity, but it wasn't long before it fell flat. and i mean FLAT. remember in life of pi, when you're lost at sea convinced you'll never be found and drenched in boredom, excruciating boredom? well, that happens here too only without all the confidence that a couple hundred pages of compelling fiction can give you.

i say skip it. or read it and prove me wrong.
May 31, 2008 Deodand rated it really liked it
I read this a long time ago, before Martel was famous and I enjoyed it. It's a difficult read in the sense that time and point of view are very flexible, not to mention that the plot is a bit cloudy.
Nov 22, 2008 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
it's one of those books that you feel like you're long time friends with the character, who's hiding nothing from you. very personal and emotional, it surprised me time and again. being really bold in some descriptions. funny at times but also dramatic and sad.
Feb 19, 2008 Mike rated it liked it
Weird and difficult at times. Addresses issues of gender and self (see title). Certainly not for everyone but if you are willing to read something weird and different and kinda good but not great...
Jenny Toews
I HAD to read it for an English course and threw it out afterwards! It was a disturbing, crude, and cheap imitation of Virginia Wolf's "Orlando."
Hannah Frances
Jan 06, 2013 Hannah Frances rated it did not like it
I could not help but dislike this book. It was like Yann Martel was trying to be as edgy as possible and because of this the book lacked reality. I'm actually surprised this was published
Jun 13, 2012 Sabrina rated it really liked it
Liked this and studied it with my book reading club. Very talented man and was able to make the gender transitions complete with out a false note.
May 21, 2011 Diane rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I didn't finish this. I absolutely loved Life Of Pi but cannot waste anymore valuable reading time on this. It's not for me.
Oct 02, 2007 Emilie rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people who like strange Can Lit
Shelves: bookclub-picks
As is typical of most Canadian fiction, this is a strange strange book. Yet it intrigued me and kept me reading. For that, I am appreciative. Would I recommend it? The jury is still out on that one.
Dec 31, 2011 Delores rated it did not like it
Couldn't stand this one. What a complete 360 from The Life of Pi.
May 01, 2011 Jess rated it did not like it
Clever idea, but crossed too many boundaries and became too weird for me.
Feb 08, 2014 Shannon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Book Club: Self 2 6 Jan 05, 2017 11:51AM  
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  • Still Life With June
  • Where She Has Gone
  • The Garneau Block
  • The Bone Cage
  • Chance to Dance for You
  • The Consequences of Marriage
  • From Ink Lake: Canadian Stories Selected By Michael Ondaatje
  • Let's Panic About Babies!: How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain, and Finally Turn You into a Worthwhile Human Being
  • It's Too Late to Say I'm Sorry
Yann Martel is the author of Life of Pi, the #1 international bestseller and winner of the 2002 Man Booker (among many other prizes). He is also the award-winning author of The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (winner of the Journey Prize), Self, Beatrice & Virgil, and 101 Letters to a Prime Minister. Born in Spain in 1963, Martel studied philosophy at Trent University, worked at odd jobs ...more
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“The clear liquid in our eyes is seawater and therefore there are fish in our eyes, seawater being the natural medium of fish. Since blue and green are the colours of the richest seawater, blue and green eyes are the fishiest. Dark eyes are somewhat less fecund and albino eyes are nearly fishless, sadly so. But the quantity of fish in an eye means nothing. A single tigerfish can be as beautiful, as powerful, as an entire school of seafaring tuna. That science has never observed ocular fish does nothing to refute my theory; on the contrary, it emphasizes the key hypothesis, which is: love is the food of eye fish and only love will bring them out. So to look closely into someone's eyes with cold, empirical interest is like the rude tap-tap of a finder on an aquarium, which only makes the fish flee. In a similar vein, when I took to looking at myself closely in mirrors during the turmoil of adolescence, the fact that I saw nothing in my eyes, not even the smallest guppy or tadpole, said something about my unhappiness and lack of faith in myself at the time.

...I no longer believe in eye fish in [i]fact[/i], but still do in metaphor. In the passion of an embrace, when breath, the win, is at its loudest and skin at its saltiest, I still nearly think that I could stop things and hear, feel, the rolling of the sea. I am still nearly convinced that, when my love and I kiss, we will be blessed with the sight of angelfish and sea-horses rising to the surface of our eyes, these fish being the surest proof of our love. In spite of everything, I sill profoundly believe that love is something oceanic.”
“A plain is what a mountain aims to be: the closest you can come to being in outer space while yet having your feet on this planet.” 3 likes
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