Saturday, November 7, 2009

Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

genre: historical fiction

I can see why this book has been handed to me by different friends and recommended by both acquaintances and strangers. Outlander is a gripper of a historical fiction novel - taking place partly in just post World War II Scotland, but mostly in the Scotland of the 1700s. This early Scotland that the 20th century native Claire Beaumont suddenly finds herself stranded in, is a wild and ferocious place and she has to quickly figure out the new rules and find a place for herself before superstition or clan/crown warfare gets her killed.

Luckily, Claire is a resourceful woman, a 27 year old skilled nurse recently returned from the war. Her ability to help the sick and injured enables her to be useful and stay in the keeping of two brothers, leaders of the clan McKenzie. That ability also puts her in path of Jamie, a tall and strapping Scot - classically redheaded, with fierce pride and a strong arm. As she befriends various folks around the manor, her precarious situation becomes more and more clear - without a past for anyone to verify and suspicions running high as deadly encounters with the British seem to keep occurring - Claire is forced into situations that require some sticky decision making. Not the least of her decisions is: how do I get myself back to my own century, alive?

While the plot did move along fairly quickly, and the writing was engaging, there was a certain level of "romance novel-esq-ness" that detracted for me. It made the ending predictable and left nothing to the imagination. The dichotomous natures of the hero, in particular, and heroine: headstrong yet loving, hotheaded yet gentle, sometimes felt a bit trite. That being said, Gabaldon is a master at dropping you into another century and leaving you there, surrounded by historical details that ring true - the Scottish accent was lovely to read and she was consistent with it. I did like the love story, and it certainly was a vital part of the tale being told, maybe I'm just not used to the bawdiness of Scottish Highlanders in 1743. Parts of this story were brutally raw and hard to read, unmasking a violence that seemed to be a constant undertow throughout much of life back then - either in bed or out of it.

It's quite a journey, this book. Claire gives pre-industrial Scotland a run for its money and I think that she certainly did have more depth to her character than your typical romance novel heroine - with her wealth of knowledge that could only be put to such primitive use, she was thrown into very interesting circumstances. Because of her toughness and the strangeness of her situation, about half way through the book, I started caring about her and her love enough that I really did want to find out how it all worked out. If you can get past the ribaldry, Outlander gives you just what a historical fiction novel should: the chance to feel as though you've lived in another time.

3 comments:

Melissa said...

"If you can get past the ribaldry" -- HA! This book made me blush... :-D

The question is: are you going to read the other bazillion she's put out since then?

Gerbera Daisy Mom said...

I've been on the fence about reading this book for awhile...I think you just pushed me over!

Veens said...

I have heard a lot about this one! Great Review.. Seriously i had no idea what it was about... I just thought it was another of those that are you know hyped.. :)

your review just gave me the info.. i need! i will go for it! Historical fiction... i m in :)

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