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The Quantity Theory of Insanity

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  1,945 Ratings  ·  106 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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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
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
Kevin Simons
Feb 28, 2012 Kevin Simons rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Dec 01, 2008 Jan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 16, 2011 Paul Baldowski rated it it was ok
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
Feb 15, 2009 Vincent rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories, loaner
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
Oct 29, 2009 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cult-fiction
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
Dec 14, 2010 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 04, 2010 Zaki rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 the world and the real reason people go mad is to maintain a kind of status quo. I know it sounds like the most ...more
Aug 01, 2014 David rated it did not like 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.
Paul 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.
Angus McKeogh
A collection of six short stories. Three I thought were brilliant and the other three were just okay. Leaving the collection perfectly in the middle.
Flyss Williams
Some interesting concepts but a bit too Arch and intellectual for me.
Glynis O'halloran
It took me quite a while to read this book but that was because life got in the way, not because I didn't like it. These were truly weird stories but, at the same time, strangely compelling. They amused me, too. I lived in Crouch End when I was younger, will that mean that I can't live there when I die? I don't like waiting, either. Shall I go into a trance and see what happens? Although I didn't hate this book, I am not in any hurry to read anymore by the same author. Looking forward to reading ...more
Corky Ringspot
Nov 15, 2016 Corky Ringspot rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, if you're interested in shit.
Jun 15, 2014 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Will self is an interesting personality in the literary world. Across the internet there seems to be an abundance of people who either find him annoying, obnoxious or overly self-indulgent. On the other hand there are some people dotted around on Goodreads and other literary forums who seem to think the man is a quick-witted genius of serious imaginative ability: ‘The second coming of J.G. Ballard!’ they shout from across their keyboards.

Self is also a regular on British political TV programmes
Mar 01, 2017 Marca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mul on hea meel, et julgesin peale keerulist "Vihmavarju" Selfile veel teise võimaluse anda. See raamat on tema varasem lühijuttude kogumik ning oluliselt lihtsamini loetav. Lihtsamini ei tähenda siinjuures küll lihtsat, tähelepanu pidi ikka tekstil hoidma. Ühest loost ("Ainurakne") jäi mul aru saamata, aga ülejäänud meeldisid väga. Kui sulle sobib kuiv satiir, siis loe, kui mitte, siis ilmselt pole see raamat sinu jaoks. Ka selles raamatus tegutseb mitu "Vihmavarjust" tuttavat tegelast ning lug ...more
Nov 22, 2014 George rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 20th-century
Συλλογή έξι διηγημάτων που ασχολούνται με την τρέλα, την απρεπή συμπεριφορά, την βαρεμάρα, την ψυχιατρική. Γενικά δεν μπορώ να πω ότι ξετρελάθηκα από την πλοκή των ιστοριών ή τα θέματα με τα οποία ασχολήθηκε ο Σελφ, σίγουρα όμως η γραφή μου άρεσε και οι περισσότερες ιστορίες μου κίνησαν τουλάχιστον το ενδιαφέρον (έστω και λίγο).

Ας τα πάρουμε με την σειρά: Στην ιστορία "Κατάλογος Νεκρών Βόρειου Λονδίνου" έχουμε να κάνουμε με την περίπτωση που οι νεκροί δεν πάνε στον παράδεισο ή την κόλαση (ή όπο
I liked the first three stories, the first, I liked quite a lot. The rest was sort of painful to get through. I did like that the characters reappeared from one story to the next, so there was a cohesiveness there, and all are concerned with some form of mental illness, with some indication that the, physician, heal thyself, thing is advice that should be taken. I do find the whole whether to medicate or not, very interesting, and I quite enjoyed the story about the art therapy guy, and his fora ...more
Marcus Hobson
A collection of six short stories which have a variety of links - characters that hop from one story to another and from major to minor roles. Although enjoyable, this is not Will Self at his very best. The pick of the six was undoubtedly the title story - The Quantum Theory of Insanity - and this shone out by the nature of the humour it contained and maintained.
For example I laughed out loud at the Institute of Job Reductivism, where "The resident Marxist was engaged in a complex analysis of th
Jan 27, 2013 Ugh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 25, 2016 retroj rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read Will Self's Great Apes a long time ago and had been curious for some time to learn more about this author and read some of his other works. The Quantity Theory of Insanity was his debut collection, making it a good place to start. There is a strong element of science fiction to this book, and like a work of literary science fiction, it looks deeply into society, twists some of the parameters and explores what happens. In this case the science is psychology and the main parameter being twi ...more
Erica Verrillo
Oct 20, 2012 Erica Verrillo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 03, 2014 arjuna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 14, 2007 Rob rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Daniela Racina
Apr 02, 2016 Daniela Racina rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ho dovuto interrompere la lettura di questo libro per la troppa noia. Adoro i racconti brevi, ma solo se ben strutturati e ben scritti. Lo stile di Will Self è difficile ed indefinito, a metà tra la descrizione dettagliata di ogni dettaglio e al contempo molte scene e passaggi sono oscuri, la pagina prima accade una cosa e quella successiva un'altra. L'unica storia che ho trovato carina è stata la prima, la seconda è stata la noia assoluta e la terza troppo WTF per spingermi a continuare la lett ...more
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
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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.” 14 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” 6 likes
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