Outlander: The Novel

This is a novel that is hard to define. Part historical fiction, part science fiction, part fantasy, a lot romance, it defies easy characterization. Much like the world it portrays. As the television series unfolds, we are going to use this page as the place to discuss differences between the series and the book as well as spoilers. If you don't want to know what's coming next, wait to read this until the end of the series or until you have read the book.

Outlander is set in the Scottish Highlands in the years leading up to the Jacobite Uprising of 1745. It was a time of huge unrest and conflict between the English and the Scots, with everyone taking sides and everyone suspicious of anyone who spoke with an accent not his own.

Diana Gabaldon does an excellent job of portraying the upheaval through the eyes of people who are just trying to survive in a world that takes no pity on the weak. Her attention to detail is phenomenal and she peoples her story with characters to whom we can all relate.

Claire is one of the great heroines in romantic literature, made even better by the fact that she is a flawed human being, not some paragon of virtue. She is very intelligent, using every bit of knowledge she has to not only survive, but to thrive in a world that is completely foreign to her. She is caring and compassionate, always looking for the best in those around her. She is quick witted and has a sharp tongue, not always a good thing in a world where women are meant to be quiet and obedient.

Jamie is the romantic hero, right up there with Mr. Darcy and Rhett Butler. He is handsome; he is strong; he is honorable; he is what every straight woman dreams about finding in a man. Although he has been through hell and back, he has not allowed his experiences to make him bitter or cynical. He lives his life with joy and humor, never taking himself or the others around him too seriously.

Together, these two are formidable. Gabaldon allows the romance to grow slowly. The two become friends first, promising each other nothing but the truth. Amazingly for a romance, they both keep their promise. This enables them to trust each other and rely on each other completely, not to mention approach each other with a vulnerability that is rare in any couple.

So often in romances, the story is over once the couple has come together. In this story, the marriage takes place less than halfway through the book. Yet, as the story continues, we watch these two grow closer. There are, indeed, the obligatory sex scenes; they are hot. But what makes this novel so much more is that the real intimacy between these two occurs not while they are making love, but while they are talking to each other. It is a rare thing in literature; it works.

Of course, there cannot be heroes without villains. Gabaldon made an interesting choice by having the villain, Black Jack Randall, be a direct ancestor of Claire’s first husband, Frank. Not only does Black Jack share his name, he resembles Frank so much it causes even Claire to miss a step or two at times.

Randall is truly sadistic and scary. Yet, we get enough glimpses of the man behind the mask to know that he is damaged himself, that the time in which he finds himself forces him to be someone he is not. While Claire can adjust, he cannot.

As this long novel unfolds, dozens of characters are introduced. Each is interesting in his or her own way and each is distinct. One of my favorites is Geilie, clearly different from everyone else in either the castle or the town. The reveal at her death of the smallpox scar was a truly OMG moment. It stayed with me long after I put the book down.

As much as I love this book, there are aspects of it that simply don’t work. For someone who has endured what he has, the scene where Jamie beats Claire always upsets me as it feels out of character for such a gentle soul, bearing the literal scars of something similar. I’m not sure what that scene is meant to show us, other than times were different and, by making him swear never to do it again, Claire is making Jamie an even better man that he already is. I wish there had been another way to portray that.

Similarly, the description of what Black Jack does to Jamie toward the end of the book is tough to read. It is brutal sexual violence that succeeds in showing us just how sadistic Randall is. My problem is that Jamie seems to recover from it a tad too quickly.

In spite of these flaws, Outlander is one of my favorite romances of all time. It is one of those stories I get lost in, swept away to another time and place. Not unlike Claire herself.

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.

12 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I loved the first few books, and then it sort of got away from me. As you mentioned, Chris, the thing that bothered me the most was how much Jamie gets hurt!

Danielle said...

This series is my absolute favorite. Like any other series that is as long and is in-depth as this, some of the books are better than others. I think that the first 3 books are fabulous. 4 a little less so. 5 and 6 are just ok. But 7 and 8 have really gotten it back on track!

I've always been interested in how people respond to the spanking. It's never bothered me since women were just property at the time and Jamie is a man of the times. He is honorable in every sense of the word and for the times it was expected. He did what it took no matter the consequences. He took it to the next level by swearing to never do it again.

I'm beyond excited about the show and got Starz just to watch it.

lisa menaster said...

Black Jack Randall is not Frank's descendant, he is Frank's ancestor.

ChrisB said...

Lisa -- you're right. Oops. Thanks for the catch.

All fixed.

CrazyCris said...

The spanking bothered me, but not too much considering the historical context. Was pretty normal (even worse things were considered normal!) and considering the context it happens in, it makes sense.

I look forward to seeing this fabulous book (and the next! yay season 2!) come to life on screen. And will fun comparing the two here with you guys. :)

ChrisB said...

I’m so happy they chose to introduce Geillis as early as the second episode. Claire needs someone on her side other than Jamie. Wasn’t it interesting that (a) she calls herself a witch and (b) asks Claire if she is picking the mushrooms to kill her husband. Subtle, yet effective, foreshadowing.

CrazyCris said...

Very true about Geillis Chris! Also, I find myself wondering if my finding her a bit creepy has to do with my knowledge of what's to come, or is she really just a bit -well- creepy?

I'l glad they included the scene about Claire's last name (pronunciation), although they switched it to later in the tale and by Collum not Dougal. Wonder why they waited?

Also, I don't remember any mention of Claire ever leaving with a Tinker in the book. Do you?

And Jaimie... No words. ;o)

Danielle said...

There's no tinker in the book, but feel it helps set up later how desperate she will get about leaving.

ChrisB said...

The whole thing with the tinker was new, but I think it was effective for two reasons. The first was the idea that she believed she was getting out, so didn't worry too much about what was happening to her. It will make her trying to go much more tense moving forward. Secondly, it sets up that Colum and Dougal really don't trust her and have an enormous amount of power over her.

There is an echo of this in the scene where Jamie is being beaten. I think it's Duncan who tells him to watch out for his uncle and then it is that same uncle who allows the beating to go on for such a long time. Watch Jamie's face as he looks at Dougal. He knows that something is up and that it has something to do with Claire because he looks for her as he walks out of the Hall.

Likewise, the dressing scene isn't in the book, but I thought it was a genius way to transition Claire from 1945 to 1743. She looks entirely different.

And, Cris, you are right. Jamie just makes me melt. The scene with Claire and him where she sees his back was so intense. I loved it!

CrazyCris said...

New episode to delight over!!! And yet I was a little bit let down by the Gathering. I was expecting... I don't know. A bit... more?

The boar hunt was duly terrifying! And seeing Dougal bested by a woman fabulous!

ChrisB said...

I agree! I expected a bit more and was rather miffed the first time through. The episode improves on re-watches. There is quite a lot that happens to move the story forward.

Jess Lynde said...

I'm looking forward to catching up with the television series when it comes out on DVD. I'm glad to hear so many book fans have been pleased with it. I'm certainly intrigued as to how they might approach the shift in Book 3, if the series continues to be successful.

It's been a very long time since I read Outlander, but I just finished the most recent book and was curious to see your take on the original. I've been reading reviews of the series and the arc of the book is slowly coming back to me. I don't really remember how I reacted to the specifics when reading it for the first time; only that I enjoyed the story enough to keep barrelling through the next few books. Claire and Jamie are certainly a compelling couple, and I've enjoyed the expanding perspectives as the series has progressed (for the most part). Of course, sometimes, I sort of wish the series would just end so that bad things would stop happening to characters I care about. I understand the dictates of dramatic narratives, and, sure, part of me wants to know what happens next to these people. But I'd also be content with the idea that the rest of their lives are spent happily in the routine of everyday life, you know? :)

Re: the first novel --- I agree with you, Chris, that Claire's spunk and flaws are what make her such a great heroine. She can be just as frustrating and she is sympathetic. I love that complexity. It's interesting that you singled out Jamie getting over what happened with Randall too quickly as a sticking point. Is that how it comes across in the first book? I honestly don't remember, and it is abundantly clear from subsequent books that he does not get over it quickly, so it surprised me to see your reaction here. (Hopefully, that's not a spoiler.)