It was in the summer of 1978 that I first read Colin Wilson's The Outsider, borrowed from the Edinburgh City Library; and for only the second time I came across a book which addressed my condition directly and exactly (the first such book was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig, which I had read two years earlier).
I was, and am, one of those Outsiders which Wilson defined and (for a while) brought into popular parlance. His method is by following the argument through themed biographies, summaries and excerpts of those with what was then termed an existential relationship to the world.
(There are many such figures - e.g. TS Eliot, WB Yeats, Sartre, Camus, Van Gogh, Nijinsky, Lawrence of Arabia, Tolstoy, Dostoievski, Kierkegaard and many others.)
Since then I have read literally dozens of Colin Wilson's books, and browsed The Outsider frequently, but have not read it through. And indeed when I decided to re-read it a couple of weeks ago, I could not find my old Picador Paperback copy. Presumably I must have lent or given it... anyway I bought a new copy and set-to.
I was amazed at how good it was! Really superb! I would say that The Outsider is as good as anything CW ever wrote, and as good as any non-fiction I have ever read. It has a real strength and seriousness about it; a youthful vitality and incisive urgency. So much is there.
It is rather strange to realise that if I had been able or willing to give The Outsider serious consideration forty years ago, my life might have been different and better; because although it does not take the reader all the way to where I am now - it did take me to within shouting distance. Surely I could have filled in a few gaps and extrapolated where needed?
Well, I didn't - and the reason was mostly my impatience with those more religious sections of the book, which I think I skimmed over; certainly I did not given them genuine thought. Yet in The Outsider and its equally fine sequel Religion and the Rebel, Wilson was more genuinely religious than later in his life; and was especially attuned to the visionary mind, including William Blake.
As I approached the last few pages of The Outsider, I was feeling that it was a near-perfect literary-philosophical achievement; but for the last few pages and conclusion - specifically the section on the work of TE Hulme - the argument becomes convoluted and very difficult to follow; indeed Wilson does not make clear why Hulme is being included, since his expounded views seem to add nothing substantive, and instead thwart the books powerful momentum.
Perhaps it was the memory of this rather stumbling ending (after some 250 pages with hardly a mis-step) that had unjustly somewhat diminished the book in my memory?
Anyway, I would give Colin Wilson's first book the highest recommendation for anyone who feels himself to be an 'outsider'.