The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year 1743.
Claire struggles to acclimatize in a world she only knows from history books, but soon finds support in Jamie Fraser. Because of his unconditional love for her, she finds herself torn between infidelity and desire. Eventually, she’ll have to face a tough decision. Does she return to her husband in 1945 or does she stay with Jamie in the 18th century?
Even Diana Gabaldon seems to have trouble describing her novels. Is it romance? Historical fiction? Or Fantasy perhaps? Whatever it is, I think it is fair to say that the majority of her fanbase is feminine. It is also true that the Outlander series isn’t seldom described as (enjoyable) trash. While I get the point, I do believe that this view isn’t doing the books justice. So far I can’t speak for the rest of the series, but looking at Outlander I see a nicely plotted story full of conflict, with strong characters and a vivid writing style.
I won’t lie, I did approach it with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. A story of no less than 850 pages, crammed on thin paper in a tiny font, turns out to be quite intimidating. Given that I’m a slow reader I honestly believed it would take me years to finish it. In reality it took me a few months, which was frankly still more than long enough. Great book or not, after a while, you long for a shiny new story to delve into.
I was quite cross – and still am – with Goodreads when I added it to my currently-reading shelf. I was a bit worried about the romance aspect of Outlander and Goodreads did nothing to diminish that trepidation. On the contrary, it started recommending “similar” books from the Highlander romance genre – apparantely that’s a thing – with cheap titles, even cheesier blurbs and naked torso covers. Now, while I wouldn’t mind to share my bed with a naked Highlander, where reading preferences are concerned, I’d like to stay clear of those type of books.
Having read Outlander now, I can honestly say that Goodreads did a terrible job. Comparing Gabaldon’s series to wannabe Fifty Shades of Grey for Highlander fans is very bold and also very inaccurate. I could be mistaken, of course. Maybe the books shown above have more to offer than their covers give them credit for. To be honest, though, I don’t think I am.
Diana Gabaldon created a clever novel that has something to offer to a wide variety of readers. Time travel and witches for the fantasy lovers, battles and historically accurate facts for history fanatics, an exceptional love story for romantic souls and a healthy amount of sex for the erotic fiction readers.
While this could be a shortcut to success, it could just as easily be a treacherous ally. Chances are you won’t be able to keep all your readers content when you’re book deals with so many topics. I, for one, must admit that I didn’t love every single bit of Outlander.
To start with the positive, Outlander has a lot going for it. The idea of someone falling through some kind of time portal and trying to survive in a historical setting, certainly appeals to me, and it’s no secret that Scotland holds a special place in my heart. So, Diana Gabaldon had already won me over with the blurb of the book.
I can only applaud her for the way she handled the story. While I will probably overlook any historical mistakes, a little Googling is enough to realise that the author did a fair share of research. It’s nice to know that by reading a novel you’ll also learn something about 18th century Scotland and the rebellion of the Jacobites.
Even so, in essence Outlander tells a love story. And while I do enjoy that once in a while, it has to be done pretty well for me to fall in love with it (One Day by David Nicholls).
The romance and sex scenes ended up being my least favourite parts. For starters, the love between Claire and Jamie came pretty much out of nowhere. Up to that point it had been Claire’s main goal to get back to her 1945 husband. And quite suddenly she seems content with cheating on him.
As for the sex, that was fine for a while, but eventually I started rolling my eyes when they went for it once again. It’s not like they had an unreasonable amount of sex, though. The problem was that Diana Gabaldon always let us in on it. If she had skipped a few of those scenes, it would have worked much better for me.
Following this train of thought, I’ve got to say that Diana Gabaldon should learn to switch off her inner academic. She’d do well to realise that she’s writing novels, not thorough case studies. Gabaldon hasn’t quite understood yet that it’s okay to leave minor events untold. In fact, I believe that Outlander could have been smaller without losing any of its charm. Something her editor should have pointed out.
Nevertheless, despite her immensely descriptive writing style, Diana Gabaldon wrote a reasonably fast-paced novel. The love story is packed up nicely between a whole array of conflict situations. She created an interesting group of characters that push the story forward and make for some surprise revelations. While Jamie tended to be this perfect knight in shining armour, always just in time to save the day and Claire acted like a lousy feminist in the beginning of the story, they both grew to become realistic characters with strenghts and weaknesses.
The supporting characters didn’t disappoint either. Laoghaire MacKenzie, Dougal McKenzie and Geillis Duncan (I would love to know more about her!) really put their mark on the story. What I missed was an insight in Jonathan Randall’s character. Where was his humanity? What drove him to be the person he was?
Despite my points of criticism, Outlander is an enjoyable novel. It might have its faults, but given that it’s her debut novel, that’s easily forgiven, especially since it’s also an addictive and engrossing read. I see potential and pleasure in reading its sequels.
Have you read Outlander? What did you think? How do you feel about the sequels?
Have a bookish day!
Buy this book at The Book Depository