Date of Purchase : 13th January 2015
Date of Finishing : 20th January 2015
Frederick Forsyth is of course the accomplished author of ultra-realistic and well researched thrillers which’ve been made into movies as well. I think I first read his work at around 16 – starting with The Odessa File, The Day of the Jackal and most of his pre-90’s work which I continued to read on and off through my undergraduate years. Along with Arthur Hailey, a huge influence in the Summer of ’04. So even before release this was a book that piqued my curiosity until one day on Amazon when the bullet was bitten.
Let me start by getting this out of the way – Forsyth is not a very modest man. And hence while ‘The Outsider’ is a breezy and interesting read, it is difficult not to raise your eyebrows at some points in the book. There is a touch of Tavleen Singh or Vir Sanghvi where the facts are broken down really well but it is difficult to do away with the undercurrent of ‘I told them so’ or ‘I knew better’ which seems to permeate throughout.
As an autobiography, the book is extremely linear – starting from his childhood in Kent and is very detailed till he writes his first novel, which is from the 1940’s to 1970. The author seems to have a remarkable memory for a 70 year old – the kind of detailing and insight is well, a bit unrealistic. Nonetheless, benefit of doubt given – it is a fascinating enough tale with wonderful experiences. In fact it made me start to wonder how would I ever want to bring up my children to ensure they get such well rounded and ‘holistic’ experiences. Holidays in France, schooling in England, hitchhiking through Europe, training to be a the youngest RAF pilot, then a journalist with the peachiest of stints with the best of agencies – life till 25 could hardly have been more action-packed. He also doesn’t shy away from naming names, stating opinions and generally blowing his own trumpet. Of course with a pinch of salt – he is extremely lucky (bullet passing between his thighs anyone?), resourceful (always has a knife on him at the right time in a right spot), insightful (can read through people and knows who’s telling the truth) and seems extremely gregarious and quick to strike up friendships for someone who spends a chapter claiming to be a big introvert who’s always been ‘The Outsider’.
After the growing up details, the middle part of the book which recount his experiences with Reuters in France and East Berlin, and then with the BBC and as a freelancer in Biafra, Israel and many others was for me the most interesting one. After which the insights and anecdotes get very scattered towards the end. When I think of Fredrick Forsyth, I think ‘great author’ and it is therefore a little disappointing that there is very little insight into the how of writing these complex thrillers except for doing a lot of research. The Day of the Jackal writing experience is summed up in a line by saying he didn’t step out of the house for 35 days and that’s about it. There’s a bit more on the Odessa File, but most of the latter books are hardly even mentioned. The latter third of the book is a smorgasbord of various tales from after he became a bestselling author. Interesting but reading your book to read tales about how you and your son almost rescued some bird on a fishing trip is not what I was looking for Sir.
The book is however is a veritable gold mine of modern history, with facts simplified and presented for readers who may not know of those times or incidents. Despite the re-iteration of impartiality and facts, I did feel a bias in most of his narration of incidents. The writing style seems significantly simpler than his novels, although I’m really impressed by the ability to use difficult (esoteric?!) words in simple sentences. Too often, under the guise or attempt to show off writing skills, there is a tendency to write long convoluted sentences but with the vocabulary of a 12 year old. But I digress. Read the book with a dictionary (or a dictionary app of course) open on one tab and Wikipedia/Google on the other to keep looking up the many details and names that are dropped.
Entertainment Quotient : ★★★
Education Quotient : ★★★★
Readability : ★★★★