Outlander (published in the UK under the title Cross Stitch) is the first novel in the “Outlander Series.”
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.
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 an Outlander TV series on the Starz network, and the trailer, shown below, is pretty good.