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The Quantity Theory of Insanity Paperback – March 19, 1996

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Editorial Reviews


"If a manic J.G. Ballard and a depressed David Lodge got together, they might produce something like The Quantity Theory of Insanity. But Will Self's world is all his own; it is both exotic and institutionalized, full of dread and dowdiness and entirely unsuspected comedy." --Martin Amis

"The outright excellence of this book cannot be denied. The Quantity Theory of Insanity is of such high caliber that it could strike a new literary rivalry between the U.K. and the United States." --Los Angeles Reader

From the Inside Flap

What if there is only a limited amount of sanity in the world and the real reason people go mad is because somebody has to? What if a mysterious tribe in the Amazon rainforest turn out to be the most boring people on the earth? What if the afterlife is nothing more than a London suburb, where the dead get new flats, new jobs, and their own telephone directory? These are the sort of truths that emerge in this collection of stories by one of England's most gifted writers.

In The Quantity Theory of Insanity, Will Self tips over the banal surfaces of everyday existence to uncover the hideous, the hilarious, and the bizarre. Psychiatry, anthropology, theology--and literature--will never be the same.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 19, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679750940
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679750949
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #943,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By John Thompson on September 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
The sheer volume of fantastic ideas contained in this collection of short fiction sets one's neural bulb a-boggle.

The story on the theory of waiting alone, will have you pondering your very existence, to such a degree of mind-numbing scrutiny that a painstaker will think you're persnickty.

Admittedly there are quite a few tangential stories that take you so far off the beaten path that you soon begin to wonder what exactly it is that your reading other than a random series of words, broken by sharp wit, and cunning humor.

But, many stories throughout, will a- and be-muse you.

Keep a dictionary close at hand.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By James F on July 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
Will Self's 'The Quantity Theory of Insanity' overflows with (unsurprisingly) dark humor mixed with academic flair. The stories often seem to lack a clear and definitive finishing point, as if one is reading a manuscript of a story half-written. This, of course, may be a purposeful attempt; that by not offering conclusion, Will Self is in essense prodding the reader into personal deliberation over the concepts presented. Unfortunately, if this be the case, these same concepts have seen so much activity in modern psychology that for the author to not thoroughly conclude his own insights leads one not into pondering personal beliefs in the matter, but what the author might have been trying to convey. A fruitless task as Self, undoubtedly, tries to be as enigmatic as possible.
Luckily Self's mastery of language and metaphor, even during points where one might feel unsatisfied with the content, makes this book hard to put down. He easily achieves the daunting task of having a work sopping with verbose floridity while still being both easily readable and completely coherent. The development of his characters and concepts is quite clear and clean, an intimidating feat while having to develop both observations as well as descent into 'madness' on the same pages. Self is able to portray lunacy with impecable flair, often times the feeling of madness transposing itself from prose to reader with every turn of the page.
'The Quantity Theory of Insanity' should be read for it's unequaled portrayals of the subject matter as well as the interesting, albeit fragmentary, social commentary. Positions and answers however, should not be sought here.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Scott on May 31, 2000
Format: Paperback
Though in no terms a work on par with the quality of Will Self's later efforts (re: Grey Area) Quantity Theory is a thoroughly engrossing anthology. From the outrageous Ur-Bororo to the insanity that was the development and application of the Quantity Theory to the subtle oddities of the North London Book of the Dead, Self's pen delves into deeper realms of consciousness and brings to light certain outlandish traits of humanity.
Will Self is a brilliant writer with a vocabulary which would make any dictionary less than the complete OED worthless and an intellect to match. His works illustrate a biting social commentary that may stem from his far superior intelligence or simply an uneasiness with the world (which very well may be the case; many of his stories centered on drugs or mental health).
The Quanitity Theory is a very good example of his work and a perfect entry into the writings of this strange but brilliant English author.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 2, 1996
Format: Paperback
Back in college in the late 60's I remember talking with
a philosophy professor about Roman Polanski's early film
"Repulsion." He said that it helped him to understand that
when some of the mad and troubled people he worked with
(no, not his philosophy students) said that they saw monsters
outside, hiding behind the trees, they really did see monsters.
Will Self's book of short stories provides such revelations.
Epiphanies of the absurd. Each page turns over a rock under
which mental illness is spawning--slowly and quietly and inexorably. The title story is as slow a descent into societal
madness as I've ever taken. You get infected somewhere along
the way but you're not sure where. Like touching a doorknob
that's been contaminated with lunacy. The next thing you
know, you sneeze, and when you look up you see a monster
peering at you from behind a tree.

Will Self is an accomplished stylist with a following of
both avid fans and vocal detractors. Read "The Quantity Theory of
Insanity" and you'll be one or the other.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By e. verrillo on June 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
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 laughing too hard. Each one of the stories revolves around the central premise--expressed in hilariously pretentious academese--that there is a limited quantity of sanity in the world. Self demonstrates this fetching and entirely plausible, proposition in stories about people who "aren't waiting for the Apocalypse", whose dead mothers reside in Crouch End, and who leave endowments for anthropology students to study the most boring people on earth (and who somehow bear an uncanny resemblance to Self's own countrymen).

The writing is sheer manic joy! Once again the British remind us that they invented English, and aren't afraid to use it. A dictionary will do you no good. Will Self's lopsided jaunts into the English language require an altered state of consciousness to fully appreciate.
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