Canadian author Yann Martel won Britain's most prestigious literary award, the Booker Prize, with his novel "Life of Pi."

A jubilant Martel punched the air in delight when his name was read out at a ceremony tonight at the British Museum in central London.

Martel, who edged out the five other finalists from Canada, Australia, Ireland and Wales in contention for the $77,500 literary award, thanked the judges "for deciding that of the six fine books on the shortlist, mine was the luckiest."

His novel tells the story of Pi -- short for Piscine -- an unusual boy raised in a zoo in India. Pi's father decides to move the family to live in Canada and sell the animals to the great zoos of America. The ship taking them across the Pacific sinks and Pi finds himself the sole human survivor on a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg and a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker.

"I would like to thank readers for having met my imagination halfway," said Martel, 39. Born in Spain to diplomat parents, Martel had a life dominated by travel: He grew up in Alaska, Canada, Costa Rica, France and Mexico, before settling in Montreal.

Canadians dominated this year's award -- Martel was joined by Rohinton Mistry for "Family Matters" and Carol Shields for "Unless." But they faced strong competition from "Dirt Music," by Australia's Tim Winton; "The Story of Lucy Gault," by Ireland's William Trevor, one of the world's most celebrated writers; and "Fingersmith," by Sarah Waters of Wales.

The prize is bestowed annually on the best English-language novel by a writer from Britain, Ireland or the Commonwealth of former British colonies.