Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Outlander is a craftily created and complex story that brings together many genres of fiction, but in essence is a story of time-traveling and adventure. The story starts out in Scotland in the year 1945, as husband and wife, Frank and Claire Randall spend a summer together in the Scottish Highlands. During this vacation, Claire discovers a stone circle that eventually ends up transporting her back in time 200 years to 1743 Scotland.
Claire is swept up in a series of events that leads her to meet up with first, an English soldier Jack Randall (an ancestor of her beloved husband), and then later, a Scottish rebel Jamie Fraser. Claire chooses not to disclose that she is from a different time and tries to just go with the flow of things. She claims that she is an Englishwomen who got separated from her traveling party, when she was found by the Scottish rebels. Since she is in Scotland and is English, the Scots call her "Sassenach" which translated is "Outlander".
As I stated earlier, this story is a mixture of different genres. The following quote from Ms. Gabaldon sums it up nicely.
“history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul…you know, the usual stuff of literature.”
In reading various message boards in preparing to review Outlander I discovered that it seemed that readers generally loved it or hated it and that there weren’t too many readers in the middle. One of the complaints that I found comical is how that since the cover of OUTLANDER is a fake leather cover, the reviewer could only give the book four stars instead of five.
Another common complaint is that there is too much sex in the story. There have been lots of comments that all Claire and Jamie do is have sex after they get married. I have to agree with these comments, but not the complaints, that they have lots of sex. I would like to point out that all the sex occurs AFTER Claire and Jamie get married, when they are newlyweds. Well, isn’t that what newlywed do - is have lots of sex? I find it to fit into the context of the story just fine and don’t see what all the fuss is about.
This leads in to another issue that comes up in the story, is that Claire ends up marrying Jamie while she is stuck in the past. Claire is currently married to her husband Frank Randall when she marries Jamie. In essence, Claire is forced to marry Jamie so that she doesn't get turned over to the story's antagonist, Jack Randall. I don't think this was treated lightly in the story, as a major source of angst in Claire throughout the story is her trying to deal with the fact that she is married to two different men (in her own personal timeline) at the same time. The story does address this dilemma and puts forth a reasonable explanation for the reader. Claire confides in another character her struggle with this issue, which then Claire is able to come to a resolution, at least for a little bit. I have a feeling that this will continue to be a stress point for Claire throughout her time in living in the past.
Another point to think about is that due to Claire traveling back in time, which to her is a completely novel idea, (this was before Back To The Future folks). She has no idea how it happened at first, and can only guess at what happened and she spends time thinking about it for the following weeks. At the time that she is deciding whether or not to go through with the marriage to Jamie, in her mind she is unable to return back to her life. From her understanding of how she got there, her previous life is over, that door is shut to her. As far as she is aware, she will be in this past time period for the rest of her mortal life. It is very reasonable that she would eventually re-marry and start a new relationship. Again, I found it to be a believable plot point.
Throughout the story, Claire and Jamie end up helping each other out and come to trust each other. From the first night that Claire and Jamie meet, Claire dresses Jamie’s wounds from a recent skirmish with the British. As the story progresses we see that the couple help each other out in different scenarios from something as simple as Claire bringing Jamie lunch to Jamie rescueing Claire from getting tried as a witch and getting executed. These series of events serve to create a bond of trust between Claire and Jamie that carries them throughout the story.
A great twist in the story is that the story’s antagonist, Jack Randall, is an ancestor of her husband, Frank Randall, and that they have an uncanny resemblance. I love how Ms. Gabaldon set it up so that Claire is emotionally torn every time she thinks of or meets ‘Black’ Jack. It not only plays into the current struggle that Claire has when she is face to face with Jack, but I imagine it will have future implications with Claire if she ever meets up with her ‘real time’ husband, Frank, again. However, I did find it too convenient that the first person Claire meets in the past is Jack and how she just randomly runs into him in the middle of nowhere.
In the climax of the story there is an intense emotional and disturbing series of events that happens to Jamie that occurred that I almost put down the book and stopped reading the story. I still have mixed feelings about what I read, that I don't know if I accepted it or hated it. I understand that the scenes were written to help Jamie's character develop more fully. I understand that Jamie felt that he had to go through this to protect Claire and that it wasn't going to matter the next day what happened to him. However, I had a hard time understanding why the hero of the story had to be beaten, humiliated, tortured and desecrated when I felt that it didn't really pertain to the overall story of Claire. I had a hard time with the overall mistreatment and abuse of a (albeit literary) human being and felt that it was over the top.
Some of the things I felt were problematic in Outlander were that I didn't feel that the length of time of the relationship between Jamie and Claire was long enough for them to become so devoted to each other, regardless of how much sex they had. However, I do understand that it was most likely accelerated to increase the pace of the story. I also had a problem with the belt whipping scene. I felt that the lesson that Claire had to learn, which tied into this scene, should have been written in a different, less violent way. This leads into something that while reading Outlander, I felt was overdone in throughout the story. It seems that the characters didn’t learn their lesson or grow as a person, unless violence was involved somehow. From Jamie’s whippings as a boy to his whippings as a prisoner to Claire’s above mentioned belt whipping and then on to the Wentworth Prison scenes the lessons taught were through violence.
Well due to advantages of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs, I posed this question to the author, Diana Gabaldon, via her Twitter account, I wasn’t sure if she would actually respond, but to my surprise she did. Ms. Gabaldon ended up writing a blog post on her blog and answered my question, voyagesoftheartemis.blogspot.com, which I would encourage everyone, who has read Outlander, to read the post. I will be taking some of her points made in the blog entry, Jamie and The Rule of Three, and including them in this review, as I feel that I am able to do so as that the quotes are a response to my questions. Not only is this a great response to my question about matters in the story, but Ms. Gabaldon does a great job teaching how to write a great story.
Ms. Gabaldon discusses how the story of Outlander is a story of high stakes, not in the overused "save the world" type of high stakes, but on a personal level. She pointed out that Claire and Jamie love each other and that they have both rescued each other from harm and even from death. What could be higher stakes than that? I totally agree with her on this point. As an avid reader of fantasy novels over the years, it always seemed that the 'Chosen One of Prophecy' had to learn how to fight the Evil One so that he could save the world. While this type of story can be entertaining if done right, it does get old and eventually loses its excitement. One of the concepts that I found refreshing in Outlander, one that Ms. Gabaldon points out, is that the angst in the story is on a different level, it's a personal and intimate story. Granted, I haven't read the whole series so I don't know how things are going to progress, but I would guess that the story doesn’t allow for an increased level of 'High Stakes', as to do so would change the history of the world dramatically. So by default the story will have to be focused on an intimate level of change and conflict. As I stated earlier to Ms. Gabaldon via Twitter,” I am late to the Outlander party” so I guess I'll find out more as I continue to read the series.
Ms. Gabaldon has stated that she wrote this story as practice thinking that it wouldn’t get published. Well, if this is her ‘practice’ story I can’t wait to read the following stories that she has written. I felt that Outlander was well written and overall was easy to read and was captivating.
I would give the level of angst in the story a THREE. There is conflict of all sorts throughout the story, from the physical conflict of battle to the emotional conflict of relationships. I enjoyed the different levels of angst found in Outlander and felt that it strongly contributed to character development. The last scenes in the book were very angst-ridden.
Profanity in the story is a TWO, in that there is some profanity with the “F” word present. There is violence in Outlander, as there are different battles and fights between the characters. The violence is a THREE, due to scenes of torture. As noted in the review, there is a lot of sex between husband and wife characters but due to a scene of rape that is quite violent, the sexual content is a THREE.
The characterization of the characters in Outlander is a strong THREE. Ms. Gabaldon does a great job of crafting characters that feel and act real. It was easy to relate to them and feel what they felt as they progressed in their personal journeys. The plot of Outlander was a THREE as well. It was complex without being confusing and was entertaining. There were a few scenes that in the end didn’t go as I had thought they would have. Up until the last 100 pages, I was sure that Claire would end up going back to her own time somehow and when she didn’t, I wasn’t disappointed in her decisions. I give very strong kudos to Ms. Gabaldon to not falling into the “Hollywood Ending” trap and at the same time making it believable. There were some minor storylines that were introduced in Outlander that didn’t get resolved. However, knowing that there are several books that follow this one I’m assuming they will be fully addressed in the sequels. Overall I would give this book a strong TWO, like a 2.9. Only because I cannot in good conscience strongly recommend to everyone a story that contains scenes of violent rape.