Okay, I have to be honest. When I first picked up Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, I wasn’t expecting much. I figured it was an over-hyped story that consisted of nothing more than smutty scenes seasoned with the Scottish countryside. After reading the book, however, I’ve one thing to say (and I’m proud to be saying it, actually): I WAS WRONG! So terribly wrong about my assumptions. This goes to show you that assumptions based purely on hype aren’t always accurate, or anywhere near close to it. With that confessional out of the way, let’s get to the reviewing.
Outlander is the story about a young English woman named Claire who’s visiting Scotland with her husband, Frank, in 1945. He’s a historian who’s researching Scottish history, as well as his own ancestry. Through a number of brief plot elements, Claire finds herself standing at Craigh na Dun, which is a stone circle that is a significant site for druids who practice Old Celtic rituals. While here, she notices a cleft in the stone and upon further examination Claire activates magical properties in the stone, which transport her back in time to Scotland, 1744. Thus her adventure through the Scottish Highlands begins as does her quest to find her way back home to 1945.
When I began reading this book the very first thing that immediately surprised me was the writing. Gabaldon’s writing is stunningly beautiful, with a meticulously intelligent prose. Her exhibition of details in regards to landscape, culture, and emotions blew my mind as I found myself being enraptured with each turn of the page. Outlander is one of the best written pieces of historical fiction I have read in a very long time. While the pacing is quite slow, I never felt it to be lacking in regards to plot development; I actually felt it to be a grand contributing component of the tale. Being transported back into time, Claire is experiencing extremely strange environments and people. As such there is much awkwardness and fear that embraces her. By taking the time necessary to display every thought and emotion that Claire undergoes, as a reader I can feel myself connecting to her on a much more personal level. At times, I could literally feel everything that Claire was feeling, almost as if I was Claire herself. The ability to bring out such physical reactions from reading is an exquisitely rare trait. It left me awestruck.
There is another aspect of Gabaldon’s writing that I absolutely fell in love with. While she is not Scottish, and does not come from a Scottish ancestry (that I could find during my in-depth research), her portrayal of Scotland was goddamn accurate. Of course there are certain minor liberties taken when you’re writing a work of fiction (i.e.: in reality, Craigh na Dun is a fictional place), but the way she described the cultures, customs, rituals, and beliefs of mid-18th century Scotland were spectacular. This is a tremendously well-researched piece of literature, and a wondrous example of how a writer can create an outstanding novel with cultures they are unfamiliar with so long as they have dedication and respect for said cultures. Nothing came off rudely biased, or discriminatory either, which was surprising and appreciated.
I’m a huge advocate of diversity in literature and one of the problems that I have with many folks writing stories involving cultures and races that they’re unfamiliar with is the sheer laziness, or lacking consideration that goes into their writing. They don’t research anything, instead utilizing terrible tropes and stereotypes to portray a set of people that only contributes to their disrespect and further appropriates them. Yet, that is something that I didn’t have to experience with Gabaldon’s Outlander. Her novel gives me hope for serious authors who don’t mind taking the time to do their research and expand their knowledge to share a story that’s sincere and respectful.
**Please note: I conducted my own research in regards to many practices described in the book, mainly due to my own curiosity, and I also consulted with a very good friend of mine, who just so happens to be Scottish!**
The relationships are imaginatively realistic. The way that Claire becomes fond of the people that she encounters (or dislikes them), her growing relationship with Jamie (the main stud of the series) in spite of the uncomfortable circumstances that throw them together, the way she is haunted by her current state when compared to where she came from (and how that affects the ways she interacts with what she’s faced with) is all superbly life-like. From the love, admiration, and friendship to the anger, fear, and hatred—all of the characters have varying levels of depth, which makes all of their emotions relatable in one form or another; it’s all so natural and effortless. This is another facet that kept me positively engrossed in the narrative.
Now, this is a historical romance book, so naturally there will be sexual scenes within its pages. While I expected filthy smut-level interactions, what I received was wholly different than that. There is nothing crude, or tasteless about the sexual encounters. They are, once again, very natural and believable; very much what sex would be like between two people who had an emotional, or physical attraction to one another. There are some encounters that are sweetly intimate. Other scenes are simply about the carnal wants of human desire. There’s even a few sex scenes that’s just about two people wanting to be so close to one another in an effort to stave off their fears, loneliness, and impending bleak future. No matter the situation, it’s written with great eloquence and sophistication. The scenes are also used sparingly as a contributing factor towards building plot or relationships. It isn’t sex just for the sake of sex; it’s so much more than that. Gabaldon’s sex scenes are classy, mature, and genuine.
Overall, I positively loved Outlander. Between the rich history and lush scenery, or the complex political intrigue and budding, epic romance—there’s just a bit of everything to keep it excellently irresistible. Diana Gabaldon has impressed me, shunning away all of my silly assumptions, with her breath-taking, marvellously well-researched, poignantly written story of romance, culture, & adventure. Suffice to say that I will definitely be continuing on with the rest of the instalments. I highly recommend this book!!