Self by Yann Martel

The movie, The Life of Pi, is coming out soon…at least the television reminds us that it is.  The Life of Pi truly impacted me…its images, syntax and reflection on all that motivates the human spirit.  To journey on a small boat with a young boy endlessly…to contemplate survival…to be blown away by acute realization in the end…the book is powerful, engaging and has a forever-sort-of-impact.

It was for these reasons and more that I picked up the book, Self.  I was thinking that Martel wrote it after the Life of Pi, but nah… it was published in 1993 and this, according to Wikipedia.

Critical reception

Self was Martel’s first novel, and followed the publication in 1993 of The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, his first collection of short stories. The novel, in Martel’s own words, initially “vanished quickly and quietly”,[6] though it was shortlisted for the 21st Chapters/Books In Canada First Novel Award, then Canada’s most valuable first-novel award with a prize of 5,000 Canadian dollars.[7]

More critical attention fell upon the book when Martel’s second novel, The Life of Pi, won the 2002 Man Booker Prize.[8] A reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald, noting that Martel himself had called the novel “terrible” and expressed a wish that it “disappear”, agreed that the work suffered from a “serious crisis of identity”, and lacked the power of Life of Pi.[8] The Montreal Mirror went further, calling Self “lame… A pastiche of autobiography and post-modern plot twists, it was haunted by an off-putting tone of smug precociousness.”[9] The Toronto Star reviewer objected to Self‘s protagonist’s “self-satisfied air”, but praised the work for its deft touch and compelling narrative.[10] A writer in The Independent described the book’s handling of gender change as “crude confusion”,[11] while The Hindu described the book as “interesting ideas juxtaposed against not-so-inspiring writing”.[12]

I have struggled with this book and wonder, especially, why Martel’s male character becomes female (sublimates?).  As a female reader, I feel insulted by the supposition of what it means to be ‘female’.  I find myself thinking, “How does he imagine that this is how a female might experience this situation?”  This…unlike Wally Lamb’s book She’s Come Undone…a novel that successfully creates an authentic female character.  I feel as though Martel is trying to create far too many scenarios in a relatively short book…the reader is guarded, confused and left pretty ‘put off’…at least this reader has been.

I won’t be recommending this one although I know that the book is investigating the notion of identity…the self of the self.  I’d be interested in hearing from others who have ‘hung in’ through this book.  Some of the images feel too personal and too descriptive.  I think that the act of reading includes the reader as co-creator.  The reader needs to explore the themes from the place of prior knowledge.  The reader does not wish for the writer to put everything ‘out there’.

I suppose that I’m curious about his recent book, What is Stephen Harper Reading?

 “I know you’re very busy, Mr. Harper. We’re all busy. But every person has a space next to where they sleep, whether a patch of pavement or a fine bedside table. In that space, at night, a book can glow. And in those moments of docile wakefulness, when we begin to let go of the day, then is the perfect time to pick up a book and be someone else, somewhere else, for a few minutes, a few pages, before we fall asleep.” From the author of Life of Pi comes a literary correspondence — recommendations to Canada’s Prime Minister of great short books that will inspire and delight book lovers and book club readers across our nation. Every two weeks since April 16th, 2007, Yann Martel has mailed Stephen Harper a book along with a letter. These insightful, provocative letters detailing what he hopes the Prime Minister may take from the books — by such writers as Jane Austen, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Stephen Galloway — are collected here together. The one-sided correspondence (Mr. Harper’s office has only replied once) becomes a meditation on reading and writing and the necessity to allow ourselves to expand stillness in our lives, even if we’re not head of government.”  Quote taken from here.

Hmmm…causes me to think about that feeling every artist must have…whether that be a writer, poet, film writer, thespian, actor, visual artist, musician…when they create that MONSTER of a piece…that EPIC piece that every one will remember and then they are left with that foreboding feeling of what to do next.  I’m wondering how that particular peek moment impacts the rest of the creative journey.

Sound of Collective Consciousness…the World’s Heart…this Santana interview causes me to think again about the creative process.

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