What is 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 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.
With its U.K. publication in 1991, this collection of six morbidly funny stories of Thatcherite Britain secured Self's standing as the enfant terrible of English satirical fiction. As in last year's My Idea of Fun, Self's parodic style here hinges on flat, gullible, slightly ridiculous narrators, who serve both as picaresque vehicles for Self's sardonic critiques of English cultural life and filters for his manic, erudite prose. In the title story, a paranoid social scientist recounts in absurdly pretentious style how he arrived at his celebrated theory that ``there is only a fixed proportion of sanity available in any given society.'' In ``Understanding the Ur-Bororo,'' an anthropologist spends years studying an indigenous tribe in the Amazon basin only to discover that their distinguishing trait is that they are boring. In the rather affecting first story, ``The London Book of the Dead,'' a bereaved narrator finds that his dead mother is living in a remote part of London. Events and names threaded through each tale hold together this uneven collection; steeped in grotesque metaphors, millenialist zeal and preposterous academic theories, it will surely appeal to Self's widening Stateside audience. Often downright misanthropic, it displays the young author's debts to the dissimilar satirical sensibilities of David Lodge and William Burroughs. Author tour.