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3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  1,907 ratings  ·  137 reviews
A modern-day Orlando -- edgy, funny and startlingly honest -- Self is the fictional autobiography of a young writer and traveller who finds his gender changed overnight.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published April 29th 1997 by Vintage Canada (first published 1996)
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This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
I can only assume that part of the reason this book has such a low rating is the outraged fans of Life of Pi, who, probably 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 c ...more
Kathleen Dixon
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
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
Graham Herrli
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
Miss Adeo
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
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
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 aspects of identity and that was an exploration on sexuality. So I didn't really notice to much exploration into the character's identity.

One of the issues I have about this novel is that it's about a writer trying to write a novel. I think this is a the
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
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
Aug 03, 2008 Evie rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2008
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sebastien Swift
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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??
Aug 14, 2008 mia rated it 2 of 5 stars
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
Feb 22, 2014 Lissa rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: goatse
Recommended to Lissa by: literary critics who must have consumed acid or shrooms or something before reading
I bought this book because of the pages of praise inside the book's cover, describing it as "a startling examination of gender and sexuality", "magnificent", "art", and so on. Also, I was going into university, and though I needed to read literary fiction. What I got was a senseless mess with no clear ending, a tired gender-swapping storyline that has been done before (Orlando, anyone?), overblown and nonsensical metaphors (love is like seeing fish in a person's eyes, apparently), a rape scene t ...more
May 28, 2007 nina rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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.
Cori Reed
Although I found this book very intriguing, in my opinion it occasionally took things too far at times.

Written as a fictional autobiography, Self follows the life of a a young Canadian man. Thoroughly investigating the roles of gender and bias, I really did at times find myself fighting my own inner dialogue.

My favourite thing about this book are the eye fish:

“The clear liquid in our eyes is seawater and therefore there are fish in our eyes, seawater being the natural medium of fish. Since blu
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 13, 2007 Casey rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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.
Self is Yann Martel's debut novel, and is described as a 'fictionalised autobiography'.

In it, Martel paints a picture of his life as he felt it, and as such some of the details of the narrative are not in line with what we might consider as essentially 'possible'.

(view spoiler)
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.
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...
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.
Oct 02, 2007 Emilie rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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.
Hannah Frances
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
Yann Martel stands as my favourite writer when it comes to voice, and with Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood as the greatest living Canadian writer.

That said, if you're like me and came to this book AFTER Pi, and even after Beatrice and Virgil, be prepared. It is a haunting text, stunningly well-written as usual, but it is incredibly explicit. I am not much one for squirming, but if you're not in the mood for pages of sexual description, or for the awakening of male and female forms to puberty--a
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.
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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.”
“When the course of experience made me see that there is no saviour and no special grace, no remission beyond the human, that pain is to be endured and fades, if it fades, only with time, then God became nothing to me but a dyslexic dog, with neither bark nor bite.” 2 likes
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