329 pages
ISBN 0-394-28160-8
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is an associate editor of the Canadian Book Review


The subject of Yann Martel’s extraordinary fictional autobiography
experiences life as a male until his 18th birthday, when he sees in the
mirror “a Canadian, a woman—and a voter.” This physiologically
unexplained metamorphosis is the most startling of the narrator’s
self-reinventions, which serve as the outward expressions of his/her
lifelong preoccupation with the “idea of transformation.” The death
of his diplomat parents in a plane crash strikes the narrator (the
unhappy inmate of an all-boys boarding school at the time) “not as the
tolling of a bell, but as another stage in my ever-expanding metamorphic

Martel’s chameleonic protagonist is a scholar, a writer, and an
inveterate traveler whose intellectual and sexual adventures embody
his/her search for a “balance between body and spirit.” At the
height of the narrator’s fulfilment as a woman, a horrifying event
gives rise to yet another sex change and a radically darker perspective.
Brimming with sensuality and philosophical curiosity, this technically
daring novel achieves a brilliant marriage of mind and matter.


Martel, Yann., “Self,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,