This immediately goes to the top of the ‘Longest Audiobooks I’ve Listened To’ list. 28 disks, over 30 hours and yes, it took me over a month to finish. To be honest, it got rough toward the end. I’ll explain later.
World War II is over and Claire Randall and her husband, Frank can finally be reunited. On a trip to the Scottish highlands to reconnect, Claire wonders off to explore some ruins and is transported back in time over 200 years, to 1743. She is taken to the MacKenzie lands and determined not to be a threat, but must find a place for herself in the new time. Claire hopes to return to the ruins where she was transported through time and joins a routine journey with the MacKenzie men during which she’s stopped by John Randall, descendant of her husband, Frank, who thinks she might be a threat and hopes to interrogate her. To become a Scott and remove herself from his English command, she marries Jamie Fraser, nephew of the MacKenzie lord. The adventures don’t end as Jamie has a price on his head for murder and the two must continue to escape Randall’s sphere of influence. Facing prosecution for being a witch, Jamie takes Claire to the ruins where she passed through and gives her the opportunity to go back. Claire decides to stay in the 1740s and stay with her new husband and try to save the Highlanders from the massacre that will come when Bonny Prince Charlie tries to take the English throne.
Outlander is the first of eight books in the series written by Gabaldon. I’ll be honest and say I have no intention to continue the series after reading Outlander. Most of my complaints are from a story-telling perspective, not from an entertainment perspective. On the contrary, there are some wonderful stories within the book. I read that Gabaldon starting writing the book to see if she could do it, not really planning anything or knowing what would come of it. I feel like she never got an editor that explained story arc or character development very well. I think the book could easily have been 500 pages shorter. So many of the mini stories didn’t further the plot (which I’m now confused as to what it is) or develop the characters. There’s only so many times Claire can be almost-raped and saved by Jamie at the last second before I think she’s careless.
I was also not a fan of Claire as a narrator. I know I’ve said it before, but she had that ‘Nick Caraway’ quality as a narrator; she was a window through which I watched the story. She had very little internal dialogue, thoughts, or emotions. Most of what she said was description of action. The reason this really bugs me is it felt like she wasn’t interacting with her own story. She seemed blase, not an endearing character in a narrator.
The thing that bothered me the most was how quickly Claire seemed to forget about her first husband, Frank. They had a weird marriage, from the sounds of it, but I still think she forgot him rather quickly. It was implied that because of the war, they weren’t together for very much of their seven-year marriage and that because of this, they had an understanding that both would be unfaithful and that there would be no questions about it. I’ve never been involved in a wartime relationship and I’m not going to pass any judgement over this, but I will pass judgement on how soon after arriving in the 1700s Claire seems to stop thinking of Frank. He comes up every 50 pages or so, interspersed with how in love she is with Jamie and many near-death experiences. I find it hard to wrap my head around how she seemed to move on and give up on the life she was building for 30 years in about four months.
As with many books about time travel, Gabaldon touches on what would happen to the 1940s if Clair changes things in the 1740s. She has an in-depth conversation with a French scholar at the end of the book when she is deciding what she should do about the pending destruction of the Highlanders at the Battle of Culloden. Does she have the right to interfere and maybe change history? They decide that her knowledge of the future is a gift from God and to remain inactive is to deny his blessing. I really like this idea. Claire’s biggest concern is the death of Jack Randall, ancestor of her 1940s husband, Frank. He died sooner than family records indicate; does that mean if she goes back, Frank will not exist? These are the kinds of questions I love about time travel.
I realize that this is starting to be me ripping on the book more than a review of it and I apologize for that. I follow Gabaldon on Twitter now and I saw that she is heading to Scotland to film a TV series for the Starz network based on her books. I feel these books will make a better TV show than they do novels, honestly. The up and down of the action will lend itself well to one-hour segments. While I’m not going to get cable to watch it, I’ll try to find it on Netflix when it becomes available. From me, that’s a huge compliment.
Writer’s Takeaway: I was talking to my friend Alex, who is also reading this book and he said that he heard Gabaldon was a ‘pantser,’ meaning she wrote with no plan. I’m in the midst of trying pantsing myself, being quite the planner, and I think this book is the epitome of the bad things that come with pantsing. It seems like Gabaldon had no direction for her book, which becomes increasingly obvious as the book goes on. I felt that she finally figured out she wanted to talk about the effects of one’s actions on changing the future very close to the end. The pregnancy at the end felt a lot like Fifty Shades of Grey which had much of the same feel.
I think Gabaldon did a great job with character development. Claire was not as well-developed, but Jamie and the MacKenzie men were each their own, distinct character and I really enjoyed reading about them. They had very realistic strengths, especially Colum, the handicapped leader who was as sharp as a tack. None of her characters, even Jamie, seemed to have any ‘super natural’ heroic qualities. I thought the villain, Black Jack Randall, was perfectly loathsome. I loved him.
I also must add, Gabaldon writes some really quality sex scenes. This is, after all, a romance novel, and she does it well, without the action seeming overly explicit or underdone. She’s a good example of this.
Overall, I would not recommend this book. Only two out of five stars.
Until next time, write on.
Review of “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon | Rhapsody in Books WeblogThe Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon | the redheaded reader
Review: Diana Gabaldon – Outlander (Cross Stitch) | Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Reviews