Monday, October 24, 2016

Outlander Review

Lord Almighty this woman needs a better editor. Over the course of reading this first installment of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, I was struck first by its inconsistency. Gabaldon is a great storyteller, and whether it's moments that are painful, joyful, or poignant, many of the scenes carried a resonating, haunting character that stayed with me. Yet I can't say that I was always pleased with that. One of the hurdles I had to overcome midway through reading was a particular scene in which the protagonist Claire is beaten by her new husband. Now, for people who know me or have visited this blog before, this is not inherently a problem. It made perfect sense in the world of Jamie Fraser, the 18th-century Scot whom Claire forcibly marries after being transported back in time two hundred years. My problem was how Claire handled it, forgiving quite easily. It made no goddamned sense. It was infuriating, actually, to see it written thusly. But then again, plenty of the things that Claire does don't make a whole lot of sense.

It's perfectly clear that Gabaldon put a lot of effort into the characterization of Jamie, and of Scottish culture in general. These are the things she does best. And her action scenes too-including a bona fide witch trial- perfectly described--and I'm saying that as a witchcraft expert. But Claire--I just don't get her. She goes through lots of very emotional things, and only very rarely do we get insight. Gabaldon constantly dodges the issue of writing first person emotions, by saying repeatedly that other characters could read her emotions on her face, and they respond to that. So everyone else emotes, but not Claire. For the trauma of losing her first husband, finding love with a second, and all the peril in between, her telling of things is very perfunctory, and sometimes cold.

Here's the real problem though, and it's not a small one. Claire is supposed to be an Englishwoman transported from 1945 to 1743. Nothing--and I mean nothing about her says this. Gabaldon never successfully got inside Claire's head-only Jamie's. This woman's attitudes are too modern for a women who just lived through World War II, which is addressed in such a peremptory fashion that it begs the question as to why Gabaldon chose that as the backdrop. Additionally, she's no Englishwoman. She's an American, through and through--her characterization never read as anything other than a stand-in for the author's sensibility. It's a shame, because she had a good narrative, but the relationship between Claire and Jamie builds so slowly (editor, editor, get me an editor) that it really does get in the way of enjoying this fully. No way should this have all been in one book. Easily two, both condensed for better flow-some places were downright plodding, while others hopped with tension. Yes, I understand lulls are necessary to plot structure, but in almost 900 pages, it was a bit much.

I can only hope that the flaws this book suffers from can be corrected in the same way as George Martin's work. I've heard enough reviews about his atrocious writing style to deign not to read the series, but I'm an avid fan of the Game of Thrones show, and sometimes, you need a team of writers to turn something into the best possible version of itself. So I'll give the first season of the Outlander show a spin, and see how it stacks up.

K Rating: 6/10

Image result for outlander show


  1. I read the books so long ago the details are fuzzy, but yeah, Claire handles everything way too easily with very little trauma. I read three of the books that followed after this one and then I just had to stop because it was getting worse and worse. I watched the first season of the TV show and they did a pretty good job though Claire still has too easy of a time with the transition.

  2. Really, they get worse? Maybe I was being optimistic, thinking her writing would improve. On her site the author said that book was practice, almost like a throwaway. Maybe it's harsh but I'm of the mind that if you don't care to put out the best possible product then you shouldn't foist it upon readers who have so many other options, and choose to buy yours.