Publisher and Publication Date: Delacorte/Random House. 1991.
Genre: Historical fiction. 1st in a series. Scotland.
Audience: Readers of Scotland’s 18th century history in fiction.
I’ve tried to read this book before. I even have it on Audible. I’ve watched most of the first season on Starz. This time I borrowed the hardcover edition from the public library and persevered till the last page.
Outlander is the first book in a long series about Claire Randall and time travel, and two lives with two husbands. The story begins in late 1945. Claire and husband Frank are in the Highland’s of Scotland. They are on a second honeymoon after being apart during the war years. They are both English. Frank will soon start work as a professor of history at Oxford. Claire had been a combat nurse during the war. While in Scotland Frank is researching genealogy. Frank and Claire are happy to be together and are deeply in love. Claire is transported back to 1743 Scotland after touching an ancient stone. This is the beginning of her adventure with a Scottish clan, and a new life with James Fraser. The nemesis is Black Jack Randall. He is a horrible, despicable, vile man. He is an officer in the English army, he abuses the Scottish people.
Until I had the book in my hand and looked at the date of publication, I had no idea the book was published in 1991. I’d heard about the story when it was picked up to be a series on Starz.
Spoilers in the review. Why? Because it’s the only way to express how I feel about the entirety of the book. This might be the first time I’ve written information about a book giving away spoilers!
What I like about Outlander:
•The setting is Scotland. I love Scotland. And, I enjoyed reading about the terrain and scenery of the land. This reason includes the history, culture, and language of the people during the 18th century.
•I love the time period of World War II and afterwards. The roles Claire and Frank had during the war was of interest to me.
•The relationship Frank and Claire have is a mature love. They’ve endured and stayed together. I love it that they are passionate for one another. They enjoy being together. They have a deep and mature love for one another.
•The story has strong and defined characters. There are good people and bad people, and I know who is which. There is no guessing with who fits in each spot.
•Claire’s nurse training is used in the book. I enjoyed reading about how she medically treated people during 1743 Scotland.
•It is a vivid and sweeping dramatic story.
What I did not like about Outlander:
•When the story begins Claire is a woman who is independent, knows her mind, has matured because of the experiences of war, educated, a world traveler, and is within a few years of approaching the age of 30. I consider her a renaissance woman. However, Claire’s character has a transformation after she is transported back in time to 1743 (especially after marrying James.) Some of the strong personality she held softens. I don’t see that her personality strengths changed in a good way. She’d been a person of principle, but settled for what was expected. I will expand on this later.
•I have heard authors elaborate on writing a story. They’ve said characters just emerge on their own and become what they will. I say pooh. An author writes a story. An author has control over their characters and storyline. What am I getting at? I’m a victim of sexual abuse. I was a kid. The people in Outlander are adults. There is a difference between making love and sexual abuse. When people have sex and there are cuts, scratches, bumps, bruises, and people have an inability to walk afterwards it is abuse. Claire is 27. She is not a young girl or innocent/naïve to sex. At the end of the book, Claire uses an, I’m looking for the right word, exercise or “cure” for James following his abuse. What the heck?
•I love a sensual element in a story. I don’t need all the steps in lovemaking. It’s just not necessary. I have a mind and imagination. Outlander is an ultra descriptive story, this includes sex scenes. When so many steps are included in sex scenes “it can” become like a car manual. Component one goes into component two, etc.
•Outlander is a masculine-physical-aggressive story. Whether it is a combat scene, or abuse in prison, or abuse by the local Scottish people, or language, or sex. The people are not timid, shy, or contemplative. In a story it helps to have resting places, it is hard to find these in Outlander. And, the aggression made for a one-sided type story, with the exception of Frank, but he’s only seen in the first part of the book. It’s possible Gabaldon wanted to show how the people were during this period-their culture.
•Claire’s experiences in war most likely gave her PTSD. The experiences in 1743 Scotland also would have given her PTSD. She too, was abused by those who hated her and the one who supposedly loves her. I did not see PTSD symptoms in her character. I guess it’s possible the breakdown or diminishing of her personality is a symptom. That gritty side of her became passive.
•Claire as the sex partner who has knowledge and experience, and also at her age, has the opportunity to teach her partner what she likes and doesn’t like. She failed at this. Further, as older women, we have learned what we like and don’t like and are able to communicate this.
•Can one woman love two men? Sure. But the person loves them differently. The relationship she has with James is physical, virile, exciting. He is younger. The relationship she has with Frank is physical, but they have a deep bond of intimacy. They have a love that has grown and stood the test of time with maturity. I have empathy for Frank. I want their relationship to work. I like James, but I’m team Frank.
I believe that love, real love not lust or infatuation, grows over a period of time. It deepens and the bond of intimacy grows.
I wonder, if I’d read this book back in 1991 or 1992 would I feel differently? Possibly. When reading a story, especially one like Outlander, I bring my feelings, life experiences, and the perspective/maturity of age. So at age 55, I feel differently than at age 25 or 26.
Will I read further books in this series? Maybe, but it would be in order to answer a curiosity about the progression or transformation of the characters and writing style.