Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

  • Outlander (Outlander, #1) My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Before I start this review I should probably say upfront that I’m Scottish and proud of it. As a Scot I think it’s great that this book and the show based on it have brought so much attention to the country that I love. It’s kind of doing for Scotland what Game of Thrones did for Ireland.

While I’d heard a lot about it and the show I have to admit the main reason I finally ended up reading it was because I signed up to do a buddy read on Good Reads and this was one of the books we both had waiting to be read.

I will admit part of the reason I put off reading it was because I was a little concerned it would be full of the usual Scottish stereotypes of bagpipes, haggis and people shouting “och aye the noo” but it really wasn’t like that. There are some men in kilts (as well as some men out of kilts) but given the setting of the 1740’s that’s fairly appropriate for the time.

Anyway, the story starts with Claire and husband Frank on a second honeymoon in Inverness, Scotland following the end of the second world war. While they’d married before the war they’d only really spent less than a year together before they were forced to part as Claire went to the front as a nurse and Frank to officer training. This second honeymoon is a chance for them to reconnect and also for Frank, a professor and historian, to learn a bit more about one of his ancestors Jack Randall (Black Jack). Jack Randall was a English soldier and possibly spy in the 1740’s in Scotland just prior to the Jacobite rebellion.

While on this holiday, Claire somehow ends up travelling back in time to the time of Captain Jack Randall and after being attacked by him falls in with some of the Scottish rebels. She has to try to fit in and survive while trying to find her way back to her own time. However while trapped in the past she starts to find her place in the world and possibly a new love and has to decide does she really want to go back.

I actually finished this book a few days ago but I still haven’t completely decided how I feel about it, hence my 3 star rating. I feel like I should have liked it, and a lot of people really love it but I’m not sure I did.

Part of the issue for me was actually the length of 863 pages. While the story was interesting and the characters very complex I thought it was a bit on the long side. If I’d been loving it the length wouldn’t have mattered but I could never completely connect with it. It’s not one of those books that you can pick up and just read a few pages. I felt I had to set aside proper chunks of time to read and really concentrate to get into the rhythm of the writing and the language. There are a lot of good Scots words used in the dialogue and I find with that I have to sound out the words in my head to get the real feeling behind them [I have a feeling a lot of these words will be creeping into my vocabulary as I forgot how much I loved them].

Having read the other reviews it seems like this is a book you either love or hate and I can sort of understand both sides. The story is very detailed and the characters complex. You never really know where it’s going or what the characters true motivation really is and that, to me, is fascinating. My buddy and I spent quite a while trying to guess what some of the characters were really up to and why they did what they did. There is no one in the book who is really all good or all bad and there are quite a few moral dilemmas that require a bit of pondering and wondering what would I do in that position. Obviously I know it’s highly unlikely that I will travel back in time, meet a handsome young Scottish lad and have the chance to influence the future but what if?

I have to admit to being totally fascinated by the whole idea of time travel and paradoxes so that was definitely a big draw for me. In terms of historical accuracy, I have no clue. I hated history at school so I don’t remember much but I do know a little about clans and the rebellion and nothing seems fundamentally wrong to me.

One of the main complaints I’ve seen about the book is that people think it promotes and acceptance of sexual and physical violence particularly against women. While there is some violence and sexual abuse in the book I don’t think it is particularly untrue for the time and don’t find it particularly offensive. I’m fairly certain the book is quite mild compared to what actually happened around that time.

Other than the length the main thing that I found put me off the book is that I didn’t particularly root for any of the characters and I wasn’t entirely convinced in the love triangle in the book between Frank, Jamie and Claire. The attachment between Claire and husband didn’t seem particularly strong, more about fulfilling a commitment rather than love, and the relationship between Jamie and Claire seemed uneven, with Claire more of a mother figure in some ways than a romantic interest. There was some funny banter between Claire and Jamie and Jamie and his sister but other than that I didn’t feel a lot of emotion from the book.

I still haven’t quite decided whether I want to carry on with the series. I want to know what happens but 900+ pages! Do I really want to commit to that? I’m tempted just to watch the TV series.

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