Self, by Yann Martel: #BookReview.

252 pages
Contemporary/Literary Fiction

The blurb asks, ‘Fiction or autobiography?’ and sort of replies, ‘both, neither?’. The whole point of this extraordinary created work is to ask, and attempt to answer, some basic questions relating to literature, storytelling, identity, and life itself. It’s an ambitious aim and one I suspect many readers will find difficult, demanding, upsetting and maybe even incomprehensible.
We begin in the first person in the company of a young boy, live with him through his early teens and schooling, a huge loss and tragedy, and his fate as the isolated offspring of high-flying achievers, his early experiences of sex, identity, and the casual physical and mental cruelty so often associated with boarding schools.
Abruptly, we are plunged into the life of a young woman in her late teens, still in the first person. Surprisingly, this overnight transition, both physical and mental, I hardly questioned, apart from a short pause during the reading to reflect on the nature of gender. We then travel with this developing young woman as she experiences life, love, sex, disappointment, and all the joys and sorrows life can throw at a sensitive, intelligent, questioning, and creative soul who dares enter the world of writing. Her journey as a budding novelist will strike a chord with most who have travelled that difficult and demanding route.
She encounters real love in an unexpected but joyous and serendipitous relationship. But her entire life is effectively ended by a violent and graphically portrayed rape that is the most emotionally disturbing such account I’ve read.

The novel ends on an indeterminate note, leaving the reader informed, curious, astounded, educated, elevated, disappointed, and despairing but no nearer to the answers posed by the original questions, merely, perhaps, better equipped to consider them.

A challenging and engaging read.

[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]

7 thoughts on “Self, by Yann Martel: #BookReview.

    1. I liked the book as a metaphor about truth as opposed to fiction, Mick. The references to religion led me to this conclusion. As it is difficult to determine which parts of the story are ‘true’ and which may be ‘invented’, it echoes the dilemma many adherents feel when presented with the facts about their faith. I assumed this was a deliberate stance from the author, an attempt to debunk faith as a reliable guide to life.

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  1. Yann Martel is a demanding writer. Life of Pi was taken at face value by many readers and the movie didn’t help. I haven’t read this book but it seems as though there won’t be any “face value” interpretations for this one!

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    1. Absolutely right, Lynette. I enjoy books that make demands of the reader’s intellect and emotions. In fact, I try to make sure mine do exactly that as well.
      This one is layered and complex, but remains accessible for most people I think.

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