‘I think it possible that you may be a man of genius,’ Victor Gollancz told the 23-year-old Colin Wilson shortly after he had agreed to publish his first and most famous book, The Outsider. Heady stuff, one might think, but young Wilson took it in his stride. The son of a factory worker, he had arrived in London from Leicester four years earlier, in 1951, determined to make his way as a writer, and when he showed some chapters from a novel to the poet and editor Bill Hopkins, he was greeted with a cry of ‘You are a man of genius! Welcome to our ranks!’ ‘I was pleased but, to tell the truth, not especially flattered, for I had taken it for granted that I was a man of genius since I was about thirteen,’ Wilson recalls in this entertaining if melancholy survey of the merits and demerits of his literary generation.
It’s a wretched business for a writer to be remembered, almost exclusively, for his first book, and Wilson suffered more than most. In the short term, though, the reviews of The Outsider suggested that the excited talk of genius had not been misplaced. Although neither was at ease