Book Review – “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon


outlander-blue-cover-198x300“Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

 

Background/plot:

This is the first book in a series of seven telling the story of Claire and Jamie. In this, we meet Claire, a 20th Century woman who accidentally finds herself transported back through time to 18th Century Scotland just before the second Jacobite rising. Without giving too much of the plot away, Claire is kidnapped by the English Dragoons, but is rescued by a clan of Highlanders where she meets Jamie Fraser. She is desperate to get back to the stone circle where she fell through time, and sets about trying to escape from the clan where she now lives. It is difficult though, and it takes time. Long enough time for her to be married off to Jamie against her will, but she gradually learns to care for him. When the chance to go back to her own time comes around, will she go back or will she stay with Jamie?

My overall impression?

Overall I liked this book, but there were so many anachronisms and things that just didn’t ring true that they began to grate on my nerves a bit and it took an effort to ignore those irritations and just enjoy the story for what it was. I was lucky enough to watch this on DVD as I was reading it. We’d taken the box set away on holiday with us and my husband and I watched a couple of episodes each night in our caravan, and – unusually – the TV version is fairly accurate and faithful to the book. Including in its anachronisms and mistakes!

I think partly this is because the author is American and she wrote a Scottish historical novel based on research and a romanticised view of what Scotland is and how the Scottish people were/are. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for me, there were too many Americanisms in it for it to ring true. Yes, I realise it is a fantasy because it involves time travel, but even so, if a writer of historical fiction is giving a character dialogue in a certain accent or dialect, then they have a responsibility to get it right, and not project their own (romantic) version of it. The same goes for naming your characters – Scotland is very different from Ireland even though they share a Celtic heritage, yet consistently, Gabaldon uses Irish names for her characters in this book. For example, the MacKenzie clan leader is called “Colum”. Now, more commonly, the name is “Colm” (pronounced “column”), but it is an Irish name, not a Scottish one. As clan chief he most certainly would have had a traditional Scottish name. Other characters with non-Scottish names include Laoghaire (Irish),  Rupert (German), Brian (Irish), Fergus (Irish)… I could go on, but you get the picture?

Also, I got annoyed with the American versions of the Scottish terms – for example, “plaid” is a North American term for what the Scots refer to as “tartan”, yet not once throughout the book is “tartan” used for the Highland dress that Jamie and his clansmen wore.

In terms of construction and narrative arc, it was OK. There was a beginning, a middle and an end – of sorts – but I felt that it was written very much with the rest of the series in mind and so it didn’t quite have the satisfactory “wow I wonder how this is going to pan out in the future” kind of feeling I would have expected from a story of this magnitude.  I would have liked to have had a bit of parallel storytelling so that we could see what Frank was going through in 1945 in looking for Claire, especially as one of the characters she meets in 1743 has a direct bearing on Frank’s very existence, but the book – probably quite rightly – was centred on Claire and Jamie.

I am a little disappointed to be honest because this book could have been phenomenal if only Gabaldon had gone a little bit deeper with her research and tried to be a little less American in her prose. The concept and story/plot are fantastic but for me it fails in its execution a little.

Who are the main characters?

The main protagonists are Claire and Jamie, but there is a multitude of secondary characters such as the clan members, other clans, the “red coats” of the Royal Dragoons and so on, and there are lots of other minor characters which can be a bit difficult to keep track of sometimes.

Where is it set?

It is set in Scotland in 1945 and 1743.

Will I read any more by this author?

Annoyingly, yes!  I am on to book 3 of this series and I am stubbornly sticking with it even though the Americanisms and anachronisms are getting more pronounced and Gabaldon has developed a propensity for using overblown vocabulary for the sake of it. However, I am keen to know how it all pans out with Claire and Jamie and whether the history books will reflect their life together or not.

Would I recommend it to my friends?

It’s a bit of nonsense reading really so if you are into historical romance/fantasy fiction then go for it, but it’s not really for those who prefer their historical novels to be accurate (even the time travelling ones).

 

 

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About Pam Smith

I am a Christian and currently exploring vocation. I am a writer, I conduct a brass band, I am an avid reader and when I'm not doing any of those things I crochet with a fierce passion. I am mum to two fantastic young adults, celebrating my Silver wedding anniversary in 2016 with my husband. I recently gained my Bachelor of Arts with honours.
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4 Responses to Book Review – “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

  1. viviellevirgule says:

    Hmm, I just started Outlander last night. I’m not convinced that I’ll continue reading it because I find all of the romance novel type scenes a bit too much. But we’ll see! Have you read Blackout or All Clear by Connie Willis? They’re also time-travel history books. (And also likely have many of the same problems that come with an American writing about Britain. 🙂 )

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  2. sterlingsop says:

    Hi Mary, no I’ve not read those books but I might give them a go. I quite like the genre of time travel history books and I don’t mind a bit of romance so yes, I’ll certainly look them up. I didn’t want to sound peevish about the writing style of Diana Gabaldon and I certainly have nothing against Americans writing British stories, it’s just that it is disappointing in the Outlander series that she has only done superficial research instead of really getting down to write it authentically. Well, as authentic as time travel can be, but you know what I mean! It could be so much better if only attention to detail was a bit more, well, detailed, really.

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    • viviellevirgule says:

      I didn’t think you sounded peevish at all! 🙂 And I’ve certainly complained about British authors writing about America with obviously superficial research! It is a pet peeve of mine when any book has obviously not been well researched. I feel like authors have an obligation to be as close to correct as possible within the limits of it being fiction when it comes to historical, geographical, or cultural settings, or at the very least to make an effort to do some basic research. (The funniest example of this was in a children’s book where the author made a main plot point revolve around the cliffs on the coast of New Jersey. The coast of New Jersey is decidedly cliff free and quite flat!)

      I should mention about the Connie Willis books, that they are good overall but there’s a bit of a long patch in the middle where it seems like not much is happening that I had to slog through, but if you push through for a bit it improves A LOT!

      By the way, I thought of you the other day because we had a seminar by a professor from the University of Sheffield and I believe that is not too far from Manchester!

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      • sterlingsop says:

        Ah! Yes, Sheffield isn’t too far away from me. About an hour’s drive away, depending which route we take 🙂 I think you’re right about the research thing on writing books – it’s invaluable to bring about authenticity in the settings and characters. Hope you have a great week ahead 🙂

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