Outlander  |  Diana Gabaldon  |  Historical Fiction, Sci-Fi, Romance  |  1991

My poor, aching heart

I can honestly say I both loved and hated Outlander.  I should have known something like this would happen, given the lengthy duration of the series (eight books and counting), its popularity on television, and its genre, which doesn’t pave an easy route to a happy ending.  Sigh, oh how my heart pains.

Outlander started as a strategic choice for me; it had been years since I’d read a proper romance novel (does Twilight count?), and I wanted to branch out from my usual go-tos.  Many books feature bits and pieces of romance, but the ones that focus explicitly on the love story are guaranteed to yank at your heart strings and throw your emotions about with reckless abandon.  I admit that I needed a good cry after reading this one.

In short, I loved the romance; it’s what I came for and Outlander certainly delivers.  The build-up between Claire and Jamie was beautifully done, well-written, and it felt real.  What I didn’t like mostly ended up being personal preference, and I was mostly bitter about being robbed of a happy ending, or I should say, the ending that would have been happy to me.

Summary (contains slight spoilers)

Outlander is a story about a young English woman in the 1940’s who gets sucked 200 years into the past whilst on holiday with her newly reunited husband, Frank.  Claire and Frank had been separated for six years during WWII, and are exploring the beautiful Scottish highlands on a second honeymoon when Claire accidentally and mysteriously slips through time.  Upon arrival in the 1740’s, our heroine is captured by a group of local clansmen, one of them being the strong and handsome Jamie Fraser.

Certain clansmen believe Claire to be a spy, but she does her best to survive, prove her innocence, and gain trust amongst the clansmen, with the intention of eventually escaping back into the time portal.  Unfortunately for her, leaving is not so easy with duplicitous allies, being an outlander with quirky and suspicious habits, and the danger posed by war, political unrest, and general chaos in the 1700’s.  On top of that, Claire’s growing attachment to Jamie, who happens to have a knack for attracting misfortune and danger, leaves Claire torn between her past, present, and future.

Thoughts (contains spoilers)

1. It reads like a TV series rather than a book.

When I first picked up Outlander I was expecting the flow to be like most books, where the protagonists have an overarching goal and even though they face mini trials along the way, there is always that one thing they’re striving towards to keep them going.  Outlander isn’t like that as the main goal keeps changing until you finally realise that the whole thing is about Claire and Jamie’s survival and their attempt at having decent lives.  I think I figured this out a little over halfway through, and that’s when I got bored.

At first I was really confused, because I wasn’t even close to finishing the book but it seemed as if the loop had already been closed.  I had assumed the objective was for Claire to reach the time portal, make a decision between Frank and Jamie, and hopefully live happily ever after with her choice.  Claire does make a decision, but the story doesn’t end there, as we’re brought into a completely separate chapter of the character’s lives.  I get that Outlander is an ongoing love story, but I’m not invested enough to want to continue on for seven more books without a true end in sight.  It’s like if Harry Potter had defeated Voldemort during his fourth year at the Triwizard Tournament and the series still continued for another three books.

2. Our strong female lead.

I liked Claire as the lead protagonist; she’s independent, strong-willed, has a voice, and perseveres through adversity.  She doesn’t give up when the going gets tough and she seems to take everything in stride.  The way she was written was very factual as opposed to emotional, therefore we never know Claire’s true feelings until she acts upon then.  I’m thinking this plays into her personality as she’s very level-headed, calm, and collected; she seldom loses control and when she does, it’s unexpected.

I suppose this is why it’s jarring when she makes shockingly poor decisions, such as trying to escape the clansmen in enemy territory (without knowing the way, I might add), or telling Randall when he’s going to die in the future.  We have to kind of guess her rationale at certain points, otherwise she’s sometimes out of character.

3. Too violent for the tender-hearted.

I admit this may only pertain to the few like me who are more squeamish than the average person, but some of the graphic violence in Outlander made it a little unbearable at times.  I almost stopped reading when Jamie first ‘disciplined’ Claire because I was so appalled, and then there was the time when Claire and Geillis Duncan were captured, stripped, and beaten.  It was just a little too real, and a little too horrible.

When it comes to torture, I usually assume it’s a threat and no one ever goes through with it.  Not in this book.  The point of no return was the combined torture and rape episode with Jamie and Randall.  Thank goodness I didn’t have to read through the actual occurrence, but hearing the aftermath of their time together was probably just as bad.  I hate rape with a passion; I don’t enjoy reading about it in real life, and I especially don’t like reading about it in books.  I don’t think I’d be able to read another Gabaldon book.

4. What is love?  Baby, I’m hurting.

When I first started Outlander I was pretty sure it would be the only installment in the series I would read.  I love love stories but the books are long and I figured I could probably get closure by reading the synopses for the other seven books online.  Oh how curiosity killed the cat–I should have just closed the first book and pretended that’s where the story ended for our Claire and Jamie.

The book does end on a positive note: Jamie recovers from his illness, it’s revealed Claire has finally gotten pregnant, they’re both safe in France for the time being, etc., but if you’re thinking about continuing the series you should know that their trials are far from over.  In fact, the two have so much more misery in store for them.  The final heartbreak for me with Outlander and future books is knowing that Claire and Jamie separate.  Yes, they’ll eventually be reunited, but by then their golden years for building a life together will be over.  I understand everyone has a different journey and will find happiness in different places in different times, but it hurts my heart that they end up settling with other people for 20 years after finding a love so powerful and meaningful.

Is it for you?

This book is entertaining, well written, and if you enjoy the reality of love (hardships and all) and don’t mind a bit of violence, you’ll probably love Outlander and all that it offers.  Claire and Jamie have a burning passion for each other, and it is steamy (much like the television series, or so I hear).  Keep a box of tissues near as you read and you’re good to go!

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