Review of “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander (published in the UK under the title Cross Stitch) is the first novel in the “Outlander Series.”

Gabaldon-Outlander-220x322

A young married English nurse on vacation in Scotland after World War II accidentally travels back in time 200 years to 1743. There she takes up with a Highland Hottie, Jamie Fraser, but also endeavors not to let him kill her future husband’s ancestor. This ancestor, John (“Black Jack”) Randall, is also One of the Most Evil Men Who Ever Lived, and Jamie has good reason to want to eliminate him. So there are a number of encounters in which Jaime struggles with his need for revenge versus his love for Claire. Add a little historical background and a lot of atmosphere, many “ochs” and visions of kilts with nothing underneath, and you get 850 pages.

Discussion: I’ll leave aside the question of whether the book could be edited down. On the one hand, obviously it could, but on the other, for those who are into saga-like historical romances, there is no such thing as too much. This is the beginning of a very long soap opera, and the appeal of that genre to many is hard to deny.

I do, however, feel it is legitimate to ask if Claire, the main protagonist, is appropriately a 1940’s female. She seems to me much more like a 1990’s female. The Highland Hottie, Jamie, is about as perfectly wonderful as you could get, and the Evil Ancestor, “Black Jack” Randall, is about as villainous. But at least neither of them seem out of their proper time period.

I’ve seen criticism that the book features too many “rape scenes” but I would guess that for a women traveling alone or with a group of men in the 18th Century, Gabaldon was, if anything, quite sparing in her depiction of the dangers.

I’ve also seen some complaints that Gabaldon is “gay-bashing” because the villain prefers to mix his torture of men with sexual abuse of them. I think one could only identify this as “gay bashing” if one also thought that men who torture and rape women are just your average “heterosexuals,” and that to show what they do is “hetero-bashing.” The guy is evil and psycho. Personally, I think to identify the bad guy as “gay” is actually where the “gay bashing” is taking place. (This is not to say, however, that I think Gabaldon depicts same-sex preference as it occurs later in the series in an entirely prejudice-free manner, but that discussion is for later reviews.)

Evaluation: All in all, except for Claire acting like a millennial feminist, the book was better than I thought. It’s not in the same class as some historical novels, but as a “romance” historical novel, I think it is just fine.

I’ll be making my way through the whole series, because if nothing else, when you’ve got at least 6,400 pages to be tackled, it obviates hard decision-making about what to read next.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published in hardcover by Delacorte Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 1991; reissued as a Special Dell Mass Market Edition, 2013

Note: There is a book, The Outlandish Companion, which provides details on the settings, background, characters, research, and writing of the novels. Also, there is a forthcoming Outlander TV series scheduled to start this summer on the Starz network, and the trailer, shown below, looks pretty good.

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13 Responses

  1. I read this book so many years ago and always meant to go back for more…

  2. I read the series years ago when it first came out. It made me love time travel, and it hooked me good. But I did feel uncomfortable with some of the explicit scenes.

  3. When I read this a few years ago I totally didn’t think it was a ‘me’ book, but I wound up enjoying it way more than I expected to!

  4. Yeah, a friend of mine read this and compared it to a soap opera so I totally lost interest in it. Kudos to you for tackling it.

  5. 6400 pages!!!! Oh, my.

    I see this book in shops frequently and have always been a little bit interested. It’s not what I thought it would be, time travel but still historical.

    I’m not going to read it, but at least now I know what it’s about. Interesting post. Thank you.

  6. I tried reading this a few years ago, got about 100 pages in, and wasn’t in love so I decided it wasn’t worth the commitment. I wonder if I shouldn’t try again?

  7. The “epicness” of this appeals to me, but I just cannot make the commitment necessary. I have to save any chunkster reading for the Game of Thrones series.

  8. The Outlander series is one of my favourites, with the third book being my favourite of them all. So excited about the TV series.

  9. I read the first 4 back to back but that was in the 90’s. I have The Outlandish Companion so I can read the 10 page summaries of each books to refresh my memory when I’m ready for the Fiery Cross. I’m really looking forward to the tv series.
    I do think Gabaldon could use a little editing, but the books are so much like candy it’s hard to fault her.

  10. “it obviates hard decision-making about what to read next.” LOL!! One of these days I’ll get to the second book.

  11. I have so many friends who this series and have recommended to me but the length of the books are so daunting – it’s hard for me to start anything over 500 pages unless I know going in that I’m going to love. I value your opinion so after you’ve read the whole series, let me know if I should take the plunge!

  12. Oh golly, I’m having so much trouble with this book. I’m enjoying the story but three rape attempts on Claire, a beating by her husband who doesn’t regret it…if this were written by a man, women would be outraged.

  13. I’m so afraid to watch the series. The rape scenes gave me nightmares. I never even got through book 2. The premise and characters you can fall in love with, which made it that much worse. I’m going to give the series a try.

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