Review: Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon

As soon as I started this book I should have known that I would never put it down again.  My life has literally come to a stand still because of this book, it is that magical and spell binding!

All I can think of is getting home from work so I could escape into the Highlands of Scotland every night.

This book is the first in the Outlander series and part of the Outlander Series Reading Challenge hosted by yours truly.

The book follows heroine Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser who is a WII nurse living in the 1940’s with her husband Frank Randall. After returning from war, Claire and Frank take a second honeymoon of sorts to the Scottish Highlands where Claire somehow travels back in time to the 1700’s–the story picks up here–the same location, different time where she meets Jamie Fraser.

From the summaries I have read all say the same thing–the series itself is hard to categorize and sell/market because of the many themes. It’s a romance novel to be sure, but also historic fiction, and fantasy because of the time travel. So really it could be categorized in many areas.

The series is mostly geared toward adult, female audiences but because of the history, politics, and battle/adventure elements men would also enjoy it somewhat. I would categorize it as a historic romance for lack of genre. Claire as a heroine is not the typical woman of romance novels–she is older and more sexually experienced than Jamie which is unusual but at the same time this doesn’t make Jamie appear weak or less attractive, in fact it has the opposite effect. Jamie is strong, educated, charming, heroic, romantic, and chivalrous as any of the famous ‘knights in shining armor’ one would expect to sweep the heroin off her feet.

Claire and Jamie are both stubborn and horribly in need of true love . The relationship between Claire and her modern husband Frank seemed to be lacking in the passion/romance department, to say nothing of the love….it seemed more like a marriage of convenience. Claire (more the realist than Jamie I think) marries Jamie because she must to avoid being taken into custody by the evil Captain Randall (her husband Frank’s great great great grandfather or something of the sort), the novels villain. For me, up until the wedding I was not convinced of their love for each other–sexual tension, yes but love and mutual respect no. What made their love real for me was Jamie insisting she have a proper wedding dress, giving her his mother’s pearls, and making every effort to make himself a suitable husband. There was such a genuine sense of wanting to make Claire happy that I could not dismiss his feelings as simple sexual desire and I don’t think Claire could either.

Claire and Jamie are more or less perfectly matched as lovers and spouses except that Claire is more experienced (Jamie is a virgin when they married), older (by 4 or 5 years I think), and she had been married before but other than those things they are well suited. Though not polar opposites they compliment each other.

One thing that was hard for me to accept though was that Jamie did beat her when she disobeyed his instruction. Though Gabaldon does a great job redeeming Jamie’s character and makes a sound historic argument about women and their social standing in the 1700’s (beatings were a common occurrence for women and children of course) it was still difficult to NOT be outraged and I’m not going to lie–I struggled to like Jamie after that until later.

It is clear Jamie has his deamons and a bit of a dark side,  he has more or less been so tender and caring it was hard to know he would do such a thing. However looking at the incident overall it does make the story more believable and like Claire, the reader is outraged and rudely reminded that ‘we aren’t in Kansas anymore’ so to speak.

That’s to me what makes the novel more believable and really relatable to the reader–it would be too easy and too ‘romance-y’ to have Jamie and Claire ride off into the sunset together and live happily ever after. Neither main characters are perfect and not out of place in the historic setting.

Though Jamie is ‘modern’ in that he loves his wife, he is not a character from 2011–he is the product of a man living in a world and a time that still believes in beating people to prove a point and because he acts in this way the reader and Claire (eventually) rationalize his actions and can accept the one time abuse of the heroine.

Likewise, Claire is not a woman of the 1700’s and thus it is difficult for the other characters to accept her. They first think is a prostitute because she is literally dropped into a battle wearing her 1940’s dress so of course the men think she’s a prostitute. Then they think she’s a witch and because she is a nurse and knows about illness and medicine, and of course of the future–they eventually suspect she is a witch.  So everything characteristically about both Jamie and Claire fit within the time, culture, and social structure of the novel.

I was actually expecting Captain Randall to be the main love interest because when Claire meets him first and he looks so much like Frank (being related and all) it just seemed like it would fit so I was surprised when he actually turned out to be the villain of the novel. Ok and seriously he was the worst!

He was such a horrible man that like Claire, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at Frank and think Frank is a great man. I mean Randall was so bad he will give generations of Randall’s a bad name. The only thing that bothered me about his overall character was that he was gay. Not that it really makes a difference but it just seemed really out of place that he was this evil, woman (and man) raping, torturing, misogynistic, sadist and–he was gay? I guess in the end it all fit together and it made sense that he was gay when he couldn’t get it up when he was trying to rape Claire and couldn’t successfully rape Jamie’s sister but still it was a little off for me but like I said he was not critical to the over all story.

When he rapes Jamie, it was believable and though that event is significant to the characters and overall novel development–for me it was the final nail in the coffin of his overall character but oddly enough it made me feel kind of bad for him. Don’t get me wrong I hated him but at the same time the overall implications of a gay man in the military who holds a position of power especially–and he is gay, he likely would have suffered more than Jamie had he been found out. At any rate–he was horrible and I don’t know that I would be able to look at Frank again and not see Randall which is what Claire more or less implies throughout the book.

This book is outstanding. It is a little long and when I was done reading I found myself feeling like I had just read an epic adventure and I’m only on Book I but it never drug, felt boring, or long. I liked that there was a lot of philosophical, personal reflection, and self/situational meditation in the book. There were many insightful things that the characters were able to ponder and discuss which really added personal depth to each character and the overall story.

For example when Claire is tending to the injured Jamie at the monastery in France, she meets a monk and he helps her to mentally heal from the various tragedies and decisions she has had to make throughout the epic tale. They are sitting in the church and the monk talks to her about having time for self reflection and the sense of ‘time’:

…for that fraction of time it seems as though all things are possible. You can look across the limitations of your own life and see that they are really nothing. In that moment when time stops it is as though you know you could undertake any venture complete it and come back to yourself to find the world unchanged and everything just as you left it a moment before…as though knowing that everything is possible suddenly nothing is necessary (13706).

These sorts of conversations and many other moments of self reflection by both Jamie and Claire are what make the book unique–it does a lot for character development and richness of story and character.

The story itself is beautifully told not just because of the great characters and story richness but also because of the setting and knowledge that Gabaldon possesses of the culture, area, and history. There is something so mysterious and romantic about the Highlands and Moors of the British Isles–perhaps it is the rugged beauty and perpetual state of myst that intrigues me most.

From the time I was a child I have always had a real love of all things ‘moor-ish’ and misty. Books like this and Wuthering Heights are the definition of ‘romance’– dark, tormented, lustful, Gothic romance/love. Not because of the tale itself but because of the language with which it is told, the richness, and the setting–all those things really make a story, especially a romance–all the more powerful and vivid. I just love the darkness and elusive romance which the crags, moors, fog, dark lochs, and misty mornings conjure in my mind.

Gabaldon really knows her stuff which makes the story authentic. She knows the landscapes, political/social history, and the culture of the Highlands–interestingly enough she has a PhD in Ecology??–strange! You can read more about her here on Shelfari.

I could seriously fill pages and pages of discussion on this book. Since I am hosting this reading challenge, I will be posting some various discussion questions I found on this book/series as we go along.

I simply cannot write enough good things about this book/series–it was really hard for me to narrow down my discussion for this post because there were so many great things to talk about.

It is time for me to escape into the Highlands, again!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

  • Kindle Edition, 896 pages
  • Published October 26th 2004 (first published 1991)
  • ASIN B000FC2L1O

This book counts toward: 2011 Outlander Series Reading Challenge

Recommendation: 5 out of 5 (EXCELLENT, read it!)

Genre: Historic Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Historic-Romance

Memorable lines/quotes: 

For where all love is, the speaking is unnecessary. It is all. It is undying. And it is enough.

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19 Comments

  1. Kaiya Ortiz

     /  November 11, 2014

    Hello, I loved your review of Outlander. I have a kindle, but i really wanted to read the story in book form, so I just ordered it. A friend of mine’s mom has read it, and she has mentioned the rape of Jamie, and in your review you mentioned it. I was wondering, how much is it really brought up in the book? Is it constantly brought up throughout the book and the rest of the series? I don’t know how much I want to read of that, that’s why. It would be amazing if you emailed, or simply commented back at me. Thank You, your review was very helpful.

    Reply
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