THE QUANTITY THEORY OF INSANITY by Will Self

THE QUANTITY THEORY OF INSANITY

KIRKUS REVIEW

 This is Self's first book, an interconnected collection of stories published in England in 1991 but held back in the US until the moment Self attained trans-Atlantic culthood. Self (My Idea of Fun, p. 243, etc.) has previously proven his skill at phantasmagoria, but he's less impressive here. Sharply tweaking a spectrum of mental health and social work philosophies, Self is on a mission to point out that therapists who treat delusional problems are themselves the ones with the problems. In the title story, a mock academic paper, a psychology researcher explains how he came to discover the remarkably unscientific Quantity Theory--which holds that there's a fixed amount of sanity in any given society at any given time, and a small patch of insanity in one area of that society will result in a small patch of sanity elsewhere. (Eventually ``psychic field disruption,'' planned insanity to create sanity for someone else, becomes a popular self-help routine. It's just the karma theory, given a spin of European nihilism.) Self's working method for this collection becomes apparent too quickly: He hits on a kooky, half-true theory, then backs up into his parking space. But his stories are contrived in their efforts to shock us, and the ideas themselves are like outtakes from undergraduate stoner-philosopher what-if sessions. It's only when Self gets away from his adman mentality to really do some great, not readily marketable writing that we catch glimpses of his brilliance--as in ``Mono-Cellular,'' which shifts from a first-person account of experiencing life through the senses into fabulous elliptical blather, like the best of the late-period, whacked-out CÇline. Those sympathetic to Self's fantasies, which can be fun-house amusing, should read where he came from to know how much he's evolved.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-87113-585-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994




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