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Read The Quantity Theory Of Insanity (1996)

The Quantity Theory of Insanity (1996)

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3.7 of 5 Votes: 3
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0679750940 (ISBN13: 9780679750949)

The Quantity Theory Of Insanity (1996) - Plot & Excerpts

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 Question Time and Newsnight, and has some fairly outspoken but often very sensible views about the state of British politics and the role of literature within society. So bearing all this in mind I was quite intrigued when I picked up The Quantity Theory of Insanity for the first time.The book is essentially a collection of 6 (very loosely) interconnected short stories set in London, which tackles the issues surrounding death, boredom, sanity, insanity, drugs, academia, and the mundanity of modern living.The North London Book of the DeadThe first story asks a truly fun and witty, yet awfully banal question (which will go on the make up the main storyline for one of his later books): What if when people die they don’t go to Heaven or Hell but instead just move to a different part of London? These first 20 pages to The Quantity Theory really had me questioning why so many people hate Self’s writing. I personally found it concise and engaging with subtle hint of wit that actually made me laugh out loud at points.Ward 9Following this comes a bizarre Kafkaesque tale of an art therapists journey into the world of mental hospital where it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between doctor and patient. Although this was one of the longer stories in the collection I really enjoyed this one too. Self’s surreal characterisation of a descent into madness keeps you guessing at every step, and depicts elements of the extraordinary with the fantastic mundanity of some of Kafka’s best short stories (A Country Doctor comes to mind).Understanding the Ur-BororoThe third story outlines a genius anthropologists exposition of the worlds most boring tribe. Self’s writing which, at times, was clear and fresh was becoming obtuse and dull. Understanding the Ur-Bororo was decent but was nowhere near as good as either of its predecessors. This theme seems to continue through the rest of the book: however good the first two stories were, the 4th and 5th were bad.The Quantity Theory of InsanityThe title piece of this collection had some potential but in my opinion this was where Self’s book really fell apart. It sprawled on for 70 pages, 50 of which seemingly had nothing to do with the actual story. There was literally a 20 page excursion in which the main character spends days looking around London toilets for clues that would help him to locate his estranged university professor, who he thun bumps into completely by chance… No explanation provided. Essentially the last pages had been completely irrelevant to the development of the storyline, which most authors will tell you is a fatal sin when writing short fiction. It seemed to be Self was trying to be too clever in a ‘post-modern’ sort of way, but it failed miserably…Mono-CellularMono-Cellular is a bizarre hallucinatory tale told from the perspective of what seemed to be like one of Oliver Sacks’ patients. I really felt it was a slog reading through the disconnected time hops and the overly purple prose that Self feels necessary to include in a lot of his writing (though this didn’t bother me as much as it has some reviewers). The idea itself could have had some potential, but yet again I really just don’t think Self pulled it off.WaitingThe final story Waiting was a brief return to form. It tells the story of a man who becomes so sick of waiting that he joins what is essentially a cult of bike riding, speed sniffing, courier drivers who believe that the millennium will bring the end of the era of waiting. It was a sharp and witty poke at our modern society that is so obsessed with speed and efficiency that everything, paradoxically, seems to come to a standstill. Not the most engaging story I’ve ever read but pretty solid.Overall Self’s I think that Self’s writing is a pretty accurate description of his media personality. Sometimes clever, witty and brilliant, sometimes dull, self-indulgent and banal. The Quantity Theory gets a Solid 3 out of 5 from me because the first few stories were thoroughly enjoyable, however I’m not in a rush to read any of Self’s novels any time soon if they risk being as inconsistent as this book was. Saying that, if anyone has any recommendations regarding Self’s other works I’d love to hear about them!

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 frequently moved me to read parts aloud to my girlfriend. Of the rest, Mono-Cellular completely baffled me, Waiting began very promisingly but then went nowhere (aptly, perhaps), Ward 9 did similar although was at least entertainingly Ballardian in style, The North London Book of the Dead was decent but not terribly ambitious, and Understanding the Ur-Bororo... well, it wasn't scintillating.Maybe short story collections are intended to be or are at least inevitably only to be liked in part?I'd be tempted to say that I'll stick to Self's non-fiction from now on, but I read an opinion piece of his on Trafalgar Square not so long ago that stuck in my craw, being unremittingly negative to the point of exasperating.I just don't know what to do with such a promising but unrewarding prospect.

What do You think about The Quantity Theory Of Insanity (1996)?

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 if there is a tribe in South America peopled with the most boring wretches in the world? What if there is a theory that propounds the notion that insanity is a quantifiable element with its own laws about how it is distributed throughout any given group of people? What if there is a mental institute in which the distinctions between patient and physician are nonexistent?) that usually end with clever punch lines (the rimshot is implied). While a completely enjoyable read, with all of the author's alliterative and verbose writing quirks that you'll either pleasure in or sniffle at, most of these stories take a beat too long in lifting off from slow set-ups. But even so these inventive meshings of science fiction, horror, and satire make for a great place to start for any first-time Self reader.
—Anthony Vacca

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 Book of the Dead" was fairly lightweight but ultimately didn't go anywhere. "Ward 9" had an interesting premise concerning the potential for the therapist to become a patient. "Understanding the Ur-Bororo" was amusing, though lacking, I felt, something to give it a kick (which is ironic if you've read the story). The central story about the quantity theory-that there is a finite amount of sanity in any system and that an increase in sanity at one spot in the system necessarily leads to an increase in insanity elsewhere-is intriguing. "Mono-Cellular" was utterly pointless. "Waiting" was probably the best, although, again, insubstantial.
—Christopher Borum

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 asking a book keeper what his favorite book was; and to say the least I wasn't disappointed.So, if you're just looking for something short and sort of random to enjoy pick this up. I do recommend it. :)

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