Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue

No one will ever accuse Frederick Forsyth of not having lived life to its fullest.  Forsyth, now in his eighth decade, seems to have been predisposed to live an extraordinarily adventurous life almost from the beginning and he, in fact, managed to become one of the youngest young men ever to earn his wings from the RAF.  But that was just the beginning for the man who would ultimately gain great fame as author of international bestsellers such as The Day of the Jackal, The Dogs of War, and The Odessa File.

Surprisingly, Forsyth only turned to writing fiction in desperation when he could think of no other way to earn enough money to tide him over between jobs.  He was then thirty-one years old, and although he had no idea how the publishing world worked, he hoped to earn enough money to pay off his debts before getting on with the rest of his life.  Forsyth, though, was no ordinary thirty-one-year-old.  Fresh off a journalism job that saw him posted to Paris and Berlin, and which included assignments to the troubled heart of deepest Africa, the author already had the makings in his head of the early books that would make his fame.  Thus were born the well-researched and realistic novels previously mentioned.  Forsyth would, of course, probably have been long remembered if he had quit right there, but he has an additional ten novels to his credit.

Author Frederick Forsyth
What makes Forsyth different is how closely he personally experienced so much of what he writes and used those experiences in fictionalized form to allow the rest of us understand and experience the world he knows so intimately.  A recounting of those experiences comprises about the first third of The Outsider, and it is not until approximately page 250 of this 352-page memoir that Frederick Forsyth, novelist, makes his first appearance.  But readers who are most interested in this phase of Forsyth's life will find it to have been well worth the wait because his stories about how the books were constructed and sold are at times almost as adventurous as some of Forsyth's earlier tales.

The Outsider, because it conforms to neither the common pattern for memoir nor for biography, can be a little jarring at times.  It's sixty segments more like the kind of after dinner talk that a fellow diner might expect from someone with Forsyth's experiences.  The segments are relatively short and are laid out in just that kind of straightforward way, with supporting characters seldom fleshed out in a manner that would make them especially real or memorable.  The chapters do seem to follow each other in more or less chronological order, but the book does not refer to dates often enough to make the time-gaps between stories entirely clear to the reader. That, however, is a small criticism and a small price to pay for getting to know a man like Frederick Forsyth better.  The timing of The Outsider is perfect, and Forsyth's fans are sure to appreciate it.

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