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The Quantity Theory of Insanity
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The Quantity Theory of Insanity

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  1,526 ratings  ·  83 reviews
Mother crops up dead but talking in Crouch End; a cellular telephone scam ends in drugged psychosis; a mental ward captivates then captures an art therapist; motorcycle messengers mystically intuit London traffic flows. These are some of the stories featured in this collection.
Hardcover, 266 pages
Published 1993 by Bloomsbury Publishing (first published 1991)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,766)
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Anthony Vacca
The Quantity Theory of Insanity is a fun sextet of loosely interconnected stories that tackle several of the themes - madness, medical misbehavior, time, boredom (sadly, this freshman feel at fiction doesn't include Self's flair for violence and sexual depravity) - which will go on to be the bread and butter of his later works. Most of these stories operate as Ballardian "what ifs?" (: e.g., What if when people die they don't go to Heaven or Hell but instead just move to a different suburb? What ...more
Jacob
August 2011

Will Self is...a bit tricky, to say the least. His stories are somewhat hit-or-miss. I won his collection Liver: A Fictional Organ with a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes in a Goodreads giveaway a few years ago, and it sat on my culling list for many months before I decided that the one good story ("Foie Humain") was worth keeping the other three less impressive ("Leberknödel"), dull ("Prometheus"), and unreadable ("Birdy Num Num") stories around. Trust me, "Foie Humain" is pretty good a
...more
Jan
Just a feast of a short story collection -- it takes place in that cozy little intersection between the dark alleys of modern neurosis and the cobbled boulevards of the smug academic world. In the titular story, Self starts with a campus farce much like David Lodge's, taking it in a darker and I would say more incisive direction. The narrator finds his disappeared mentor by deciphering the "code" written in men's bathroom stalls, moves on to working for an agribusiness magnate who would like to ...more
Kevin Simons
This book is a waste of time, even if you're bored out of your mind and have no life whatsoever. Whenever I read a blurb that says a book is hilarious I know I can count on it to be unbearable. There's a story about running into his deceased mother, who is happily alive after death in the London suburbs. It's the kind of throwaway metaphor anyone with half a brain has made a hundred times at a bar: death is the London suburbs. But then we move on, because we have things to do and we know writing ...more
Mellissa
Self has a very dry wit and I'm sure a lot of it went right over my head. I found some of his passages to be rather tedious, also. I did however get a few good chuckles, and very much liked how the stories were interconnected.
Paul Baldowski
Self knows a lot of big, old, underrated and little-used words and seems intent on using them. This collection of six short stories invites you to sample Self's rare intellect, but does so like an invitation to the gallery at the back of an auditorium for a lecture you've heard a lot about but soon realise have little hope of understanding.

Like the narrator of 'Waiting', you start well, rapt even by the wordplay, wit and intelligence, but soon Self has lost you, the rest of the book an "increasi
...more
Vincent
After the promise of the first story, "The North London Book of the Dead," I found myself wanting to power through the rest of the stories, and several showed promise, but didn't deliver my imagination the payoff. However, there were elements I liked in a three of the remaining five stories, but I never felt any other story hook me. I understand there is a fantastical nature to Mr. Self's satire, but either I am lack insight into the current British perspective or we do not have similar tastes i ...more
Amy
Will Self is so British, jaded, clever, and often hilarious. This collection of short stories comes across as very smart, if at times a little misanthropic. In one story we are presented with the afterlife only consisting of having to live in a different London neighborhood. In another, a man becomes so tired of "waiting" in his life that he finally snaps. And of course there's the title story where a group of psychologists play around with the theory that in any defined group, a set amount of s ...more
Evelyn
Despite being a huge fan of satire, the works of Will Self have somehow managed to pass me by until now. On a whim, I picked this up from a charity shop and I must declare that it's the best 50p I've ever spent! This edition of short stories are weird and wonderful, full of jaded wit and offbeat goodness. You read them knowing that something doesn't feel quite right, and the prose just gets under your skin like an itch, but it's one you can't stop scratching/reading. My favourite story was Ward ...more
Zaki
I always imagine Will Self to be standing in the narrow alleyways of the city observing anything that is odd, bizarre or grotesque and then scuttling back to his abode to churn out brilliant prose delving into those parts of the consciousness where other writers fear to tread. The common thread running through this collection of stories is what if there is a limited amount of sanity in a world and the real reason people go mad is to maintain a kind of status quo. I know it sounds like the most p ...more
Flyss Williams
Some interesting concepts but a bit too Arch and intellectual for me.
David
These stories are interestingly offbeat and unusual. They are definitely not the same sort of thing that everyone else is writing. Self has his own peculiar, yet intruiging, way of pondering and contemplating. All of the stories in this volume are worth the time to read, but "The North London Book of the Dead" has to be my favorite. I think it best showcases Self's ability to present life with a absurdly twisted angle in order to make it fresh and noticable again. Self is certainly a writer for ...more
arjuna
I tend to find Self a bit of a bumpy ride - sometimes his conceptual framework and writing is so exquisite that one falls in love with it all over again; but sometimes it's just that little bit clever-clever and overlong and showy-offy and one tends to wonder how it got past the sub. This collection has a bit of both in it; on the whole I'd have to agree almost completely with this review - the good ones ('North London Book of the Dead'/'Understanding the Ur-Bororo', and to an extent 'Ward 9' an ...more
Christopher Borum
The Quantity Theory of Insanity was frustrating. It is a collection of six semi-related stories, five shorter ones hovering around the namesake central piece on the quantity theory. Self is a good writer in that he can construct good sentences with powerful allusions and evocative descriptions of characters and settings. Unfortunately, I found the whole thing just not very interesting. There are some criticisms of pop psychology embedded in the tales, and some of them are OK: "The North London B ...more
Paul Simon Grimsley
this was amazing. a book full of ideas and feasible ones at that. i love it when something expressed in fiction makes so much sense that you wonder why no one in the professional community has come up with the idea. i think this is a great place to start getting into will self.
Mark Speed
A wonderful set of stories. One of them is clearly a prequel to How the Dead Live.

As with Grey Area, my mother borrowed it and I had difficulty getting it back.

I think you either get Will Self or you don't. Personally I love the way he can take normality and distort it. If you ever get a chance to read his journalistic pieces on psychogeography, or listen to his BBC Radio 4 podcasts, make sure you do.
Ugh
I want to really like Will Self's writing. I like listening to the man talk and hearing what he thinks about things. I like certain aspects of his style of writing and many of his favoured themes. I like the love-it-or-hate-it width of his vocabulary.

But in general I find it difficult to sustain much interest in his stories. I couldn't get to grips with Liver, and of the six stories here I fully liked only one - the one that lends its title to the collection, which made me laugh often and freque
...more
Kseniya Bout
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Erica Verrillo
Will Self is That Guy from high school. You know, the one who drove backwards on the LA Freeway at 100 miles an hour to catch an exit he'd missed. He's the one who inspired you to leap from the car (when it finally slowed down), screaming "Are you *&%$ing NUTS??!!??" Yes, he was, and he still is. But, now he has a vocabulary, and an even more twisted sense of reality.

The stories in The Quantity Theory of Insanity will sometimes make you want to jump out of the car, but you won't. You'll be l
...more
Rob
i expected so much more from such a flipping fantastic title. if your library has it, get it for the penultimate "Mono-Cellular", the only one of the six short stories where the insanity of the speaker works. and it really does work.

but sadly, the other five stories are trying way too obviously to impress. like, george saunders lite, plus nabokov lite (the title story highly resembles Pale Fire), plus pynchon lite. all stories told first person, which i often like, but you've got to make the spe
...more
Dave
Aug 01, 2014 Dave added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who have trouble sleeping
I've read about eighty percent of this book, and now I'm going to do something that I very rarely do. I'm going to set it aside and not finish it. I still hear Mr. Self's name mentioned from time to time. Perhaps his writing has improved since this book came out in 1996, or perhaps not. In any case, I'll never know, because I'm not going to give him another opportunity to bore me out of my mind.
Max
I enjoyed this book (even though I was expecting a novel and got a collection of short stories, but that's my fault!), Will Self's first book and a rather unsettling set of stories based around the common theme of mental health - or lack of it.
There's some interesting links between stories with characters appearing in each, often seen from a different viewpoint to the first time one encounters them. A darkly comic novel, there's some really poignant and touching moments such as the new art thera
...more
Marie
i love Will Self and this book was not a disappointment. I especially liked the idea of his dead mum in another part of LOndon - what would my mum be doing in farnworth rather than her home Town of Horwich?

The Quantity theory of insanity itself was excellent and although short stories they each inter related -

an excellent read
Sonya Huser
Most pretentious book of short stories ever.
The stories are all loosely connected with characters weaving in and out. All characters are either "insane" in some way or are dealing with someone who is. Insanity in this book means any kind of mental disorder from schizophrenia to anorexia, etc.
The book's title comes from a short story in which an ambitious psychologist theorizes that in any population a certain proportion of the populace is insane. Whether the theory is actually true or not is h
...more
Gerik
I enjoyed this book. It's a compilation of 6 semi-short stories all of which constitute some sort of psychological mental contortion as a basis for the story line. If there is anything that Will has definitely got right, his psychological knowledge is definitely in a great standing with me.

Overall, the whole book is actually rather well written and each of the stories are either simply interesting or just simply enjoyable to read. Strangely enough I picked this book up completely randomly via a
...more
Daniel
A great suggestion by one of my work colleagues! It was interesting for me to delve into the relatively unexplored waters of the short story. And what an author to do it with! Will Self was striking, witty and quite peculiar. The overlying theme of psychiatric analysis and theory was intriguing.

Having said all this, it is fair to say that some of the short stories were better than others:

The North London Book of the Dead: 3/5
Ward 9: 5/5
Understanding the Ur-Bororo: 4/5
The Quantity Theory of Insa
...more
Ryan
Jun 05, 2009 Ryan rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: short story lovers who cannot get enough Will Self.
"Cancer tore through her body as if it were late for an important meeting with a lot of other successful diseases."
With the exception of the first short story, this is not the strongest work from Will Self I've seen. The dark realities of his other books are better captured in the longer stories. Simply, working with short stories does not appear to be his strength. He cannot sketch dystopia on the back of a postage stamp. He requires more space to appreciate his brilliance.

Check out his Studi
...more
Rand
It's a question of self will, really.

Considering the size of a space or time or text or concept, how does the system regain equilibrium? Are the inmates running the asylum? Is grue understanding even possible, given that the number of potential books to be read exceeds the limits of an individual's allotted time on this golden mortal corral with nary a referent in sight? Can one ever truly know another without first knowing oneself? Can the space change place to keep a precarious balance on a l
...more
Maria
I read this short story collection when it first came out in the early 90s. I was so struck with it that I still remember specific passages from my first reading. Will Self's humor is scathing and Swiftean. Many of his stories start out straightforward and then, deadpan, become progressively more absurd. "Understanding the Ur-Bororo" uses an Amazonian tribe to show how boring Western society is. In "The North London Book of the Dead," the magical thinking of its bereaved narrator is revealed to ...more
Alex
Seldom does a book on insanity seem to make so much sense. Absolutely brilliant and just incredibly instinctive.
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William Self is an English novelist, reviewer and columnist. He received his education at University College School, Christ's College Finchley, and Exeter College, Oxford. He is married to journalist Deborah Orr.

Self is known for his satirical, grotesque and fantastic novels and short stories set in seemingly parallel universes.
More about Will Self...
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“Mother sighed with exasperation. "Look, there aren't any "people in charge of death". When you die you move to another part of London, that's all there is to it. Period.” 11 likes
“Well, it's like this," began Mother, "When you die you go and live in another part of London. And that's it." ~ North London Book of the Dead” 5 likes
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