By Diana Gabaldon
Dell August 2005
Borrowed from a friend
Outlander is drowning in hype right now. You may have heard of this book - it has been selling quite well since it was published back in 1991. Some readers hate it and some call it their favorite book ever. You may also have seen ads for the new TV show based on these books. I would like to proclaim my intentions here and say that I did not finally read this book so I could watch the show. I read it because I had borrowed it from my best friend and she gave the book lending ultimatum of "Hey, could you read that already or I'm going to take it back." So, like the good friend I am, I finally read it. (I've also watched the show recently, but that's really neither here nor there, is it?)
If you are the last holdout who hasn't read this book yet, let me fill you in. Claire Randall is on a second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband Frank. The Second World War has just ended and Claire and Frank have thankfully returned home from working as a combat nurse and with special operations. They see this trip as a chance to reconnect and perhaps conceive a baby. The couple comes across a mysterious stone circle and when Claire returns for a second visit, she touches one of the stones. She is sent back to the year 1743. Claire is now a stranger in a time when it was dangerous to be a woman and even more dangerous to be English, or an outlander, in Scotland. Can she return back to her own time? After she meets Jamie Fraser, does she want to go back?
Those are the bare bones of our story. You may have heard that this book is a smutty romance novel. Well...there is a lot of sex. I don't know that I would call it smutty exactly, since Claire only has sex with someone she is married to. It's also a rather lovely change of pace to have a female character who is comfortable with her own sexuality. That being said, I do understand how some readers got weary after so many scenes where our brave hero and heroine get it on.
This book also has a lot of violence. When Claire and Jamie first meet, she actually pops his shoulder back into place and soon after, has to fix him up after a gunshot. This is a dangerous time and almost every character you encounter is going to be badly injured multiple times. Gabaldon clearly shows that corporal punishment was acceptable in the 1700s in a way that it wasn't in the 20th century and certainly isn't in our time. We read about men, women, and children injured as punishments for real or perceived crimes.
This brings us to the other thing that gets people up in arms about this book. At one point in the story, Claire does something stupid that puts a lot of people in danger. As punishment, Jamie beats her. It's clear that this he does not enjoy doing this, but he feels like the severity of her actions has to sink in. Readers have been upset about this scene for twenty years, and rightfully so. It's hard to read. But I think it reinforces again how dangerous it was to be a woman in the 18th century and that there are differences to be found between Jamie's actions and those of a man who beats a woman in order to injure and to gain control. To his mind, she is now a part of their family and violence is the punishment for people who break their rules.
So now the question you really want to ask: should I read Outlander? Probably. You might find it isn't for you. But Gabaldon has done extensive research and she writes well. While this is a long book, it is definitely worthy of page-turner status. This is an epic story and any reader who enjoys historical fiction or romance will find themselves swept away by the story of Claire and Jamie.