Author – Diana Gabaldon
Pages: 896 pages
Release Date: June 1st, 1991
In the never ending quest to get my girlfriend to read some good Fantasy Literature, I often myself have to make some concessions and read some of the books that she loves and raves about. This is how I came to read Outlander, the first volume in Diana Gabaldon’s ongoing series revolving around time-travelling Claire Beauchamp and to-good-to-be-true Jamie Fraser.
One major misconception I had going in to the novel, just like many other male readers out there, I imagine, is that Outlander was a book for chicks â€“ a romance novel only found in the regular fiction section because of it’s incredible success.
Boy was I wrong.
Outlander isn’t just a book for women â€“ sure, it’s got everything that makes up a good romance novel: a young, handsome leading man, sure to make their heart melt; a spunky, relatable protagonist; a fair amount of adventure and a whole tonne of sex, but it’s so much more than this. Gabaldon managed to craft a terrific novel, full of interesting situations, incredibly well drawn characters and a setting that feels vibrant and alive. In fact, I’d say that Outlander has as much, if not more, in common with a good Fantasy or Historical Fiction novel as it does with the Romance novels it is so often lumped in with.
The strength of the novel lies in the two main characters, Claire and Jamie, and their evolution as each tries to deal with the violent, mysterious and sensual joining of their two previously separate lives. Claire, the narrator of the story, is interesting enough â€“ spunky, smart and vivacious â€“ but it’s Jamie Fraser who really takes the novel to another level. Expecting a Fabio-like hunk â€“ big muscles, small shirt, no brains â€“ I was blown away by the level of emotion and integrity shown by the big Scot.
The ordeals Jamie must deal with â€“ exile, love, torture and even homosexuality â€“ and the way he deals with the emotions raging through him, drew me into his character and it was easy to understand why so many women lust after him. It’s no surprise that Gabaldon was quickly able to capture such a large readership and to have carried that readership with her for so long. It’s clear that Gabaldon herself poured much love and fascination into the charismatic young man, and the novel is very strong for it.
The plot of the 800 page novel is a bit of a slow burn but, for the most part, manages to stay interesting throughout. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, if perhaps the it wouldn’t have benefitted from losing 75-100 pages, tightening up the plot and cutting down on some of the instances where Jamie and Claire do nothing more than lounge around whatever castle/manor/barn/inn they happen to be inhabiting and… erm, explore each other. My girlfriend, however, tells me that she loved these parts of the book, and I’m beginning to think that perhaps it is just a gender issue in regards to the necessity of these scenes, rather than any flaw in the pacing.
The novel ends on a strong note, in a way that not many people would expect and with what turns out to be a very bold move on Gabaldon’s part. I won’t spoil it for you, but it is unlike any other situation I have come across in a similar novel and Gabaldon handles it with grace and integrity. The climax was entertaining (if somewhat confusing in parts), but the denouement was a rather too drawn out and could have used a bit of paring down.
Putting my misconceptions aside, I found a rollicking, charming and genuinely enjoyable read. Outlander, and its sequels, might be marketed towards women, but there is surely enough terrific writing, well researched storytelling and exciting action to keep anyone, male or female, flipping pages deep into the night. Gabaldon burst onto the scene with a terrific first novel, and I can only imagine how much she’s grown as a writer in the 17 years since. Outlander‘s a novel no one should miss; and if the sequels are anywhere near as good, I expect I’ll find a series that can stand up to any of the fantastic Fantasy series of similar length.