cover image The Quantity Theory of Insanity: Together with Five Supporting Propositions

The Quantity Theory of Insanity: Together with Five Supporting Propositions

Will Self. Atlantic Monthly Press, $21 (211pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-585-8

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. (Feb.)