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Submitted Literature

The Sweet Smell of Psychosis

By Will Self


Self’s “Quantity Theory of Insanity” is a collection of short stories, some of which interlink within each other and within Self’s other work. “Ward 9" is the story of an Art Therapist, Misha, who discovers some odd secrets about Dr Zack Busner’s psychiatric ward. “The Quantity Theory of Insanity” focuses on a mock conference, providing a satirical take on academia and also featuring Busner and his history.  Formed of short stories and novella, “Dr Mukhti and Other Tales of Woe” again picks up the comical characters of Mukti and Busner who gradually become locked in a strange clinical warfare, each referring increasingly dangerous, complex or difficult patients to the other in a battle of sanity.  “The Sweet Smell of Psychosis” explores drug-induced psychosis and the increasingly common use recreational substances among certain media-related career groups.

Key Themes:

  • Addiction
  • Cocaine
  • Psychosis
  • Revealing Reads

Significant Quotes / Pages

70 – “ Richard was doing so much cocaine now that the numbers that should have been intaglioed into the back of his credit card were embossed, raised up like the word ‘POLO’ on the eponymous mint - only back to front.  Richard was doing so much cocaine now that some mornings the rigid mucilage in his nostrils couldn't be shifted, even with a sharp nail and generous sluicings of salted warm water.  He seriously considered going down to the mews garage at the end of his road and asking surly mechanic there to be bought his nose to a higher calibre.

Richard was doing so much cocaine now that he never worried about getting involuntary erections; instead he worried about ever getting another erection at all.

But most disturbing of all, the increased cocaine consumption bought with it more of what Richard termed - in order to take some of the sinister sting out of them – belles époques.  These were those veridical occurrences - like the one he had had at the Sealink on the evening of Mearn’s greenmail party - when he thought he saw Bell’s familiar features, but then looked again to discover that it was some other cliquer who was withering at him.”

Reference: Will, Self. 1996. The Sweet Smell of Psychosis. London: Bloomsbury, 1996


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Monday 23rd March 2009