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An unforgettable exploration of a self
[Final Edition]
Toronto Star - Toronto, Ont.
Author: By Philip Marchand Toronto Star
Date: May 4, 1996
Start Page: L.14
Section: ARTS
Abstract (Document Summary)

Yann Martel, in his first novel Self, takes seriously the conventions of his genre, which is the bildungsroman, the story of a young hero's education. He begins with an episode from the hero's toilet training, his first important lesson in life.

For choice of hero - call him Self, after the novel's title - Martel has not strayed far from what seems to be his own experience. There are equivalencies in age - Martel is 32, Self is 30 at the end of the novel - in social background - Self is the child of Canadian diplomats and intellectuals, as is Martel - and most important of all, in vocation. Self becomes a fiction writer whose talent is recognized early - not unlike Martel, who has already garnered considerable praise for his first book of short stories, The Facts Behind The Helsinki Roccamatios.

As a literary manouevre, this is daring, of course, particularly as Martel must deal with the implications of this metamorphosis for almost the entire remainder of the novel. But it is a surprisingly easy narrative twist to accept, in part because Martel prepares the reader for it in numerous ways. In line with current notions that the ``self'' - not to mention gender - is a construct, almost arbitrary in its nature, Martel emphasizes the young Self's experience of flux, transformation, plurality.

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