Outlander — Diana Gabaldon; Bantam Books, June 1991

outlanderDiana Gabaldon’s Outlander series has been around nearly my entire life (the first book having been released when I was two and a half), and yet I don’t think I actually ever heard about it until Starz picked up the rights for the TV series. I wanted to see the show, mostly because I’m an unrepentant fan of The Hobbit film trilogy1, and Graham McTavish2 plays a sizable role in Outlander as Dougal MacKenzie, so I figured if I wanted to see the show I ought to read the book first.3

I started reading it on the plane ride home over Christmas vacation, and was immediately drawn in by the close attention to detail and the historical accuracy and depth of research. I don’t know too much about eighteenth-century Scotland, since it’s not really something we learn much about in American schools. I know a little about the Stuart kings, but nothing about the political atmosphere of Scotland or the warrior clans, so I found the background material interesting enough on its own.

But oh, boy, if I came for the politics, I surely stayed for the love story. Jamie Fraser, take me away! I just want to clap Diana Gabaldon on the back for creating a male romantic lead who is flawed and historically accurate without completely creeping me out. He’s also fucking precious. The things he says and does have caused me on multiple occasions to put my book down and make a noise I can only describe as a squeal. He is darling.

Jamie Fraser, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. First, I love how DG turned the virginity trope on its head by having Claire be the experienced one, while Jamie’s a virgin. It’s nice to see a narrative featuring a vulnerable man every once in a while, and I thought it was adorable how eager he was, and how free he was with his feelings. The bit where he asks Claire if the way he feels is “usual” between a man and wife… dear god.

Second, he really tries so hard not to act like most men would at that time. He’s young and tenderhearted, and I think a good example of that is the fight he and Claire have after Jamie rescues her from Randall at Fort William. She’s yelling and screaming at him (as is completely her right, because I’d be pissed at some of the things he said, too), but when he goes a bridge too far and calls her a bitch, he sort of falls back and explains why it hurts him. I mean, he literally went in there not knowing where to find her, with nothing but an empty pistol, and it was kind of Claire’s fault she ended up in custody in the first place.4 He really seemed so young and inexperienced in that moment that I felt sorry for him. DG did a really good job of painting a picture of a young man struggling with conflicting worldviews.

Third, he’s so… Jamie. I don’t know. His whole attitude is so attractive. I can’t talk about it anymore or my temperature will spike.

Obviously I adored the love story, but there were a couple of parts of the book I felt a little weird about:

  1. Captain Jonathan Wolverton Randall, sadistic gay predator. By the end of the book I understood it a little more; it’s more like his sadism was separate from his sexual proclivities, and probably enhanced by his inability to be true to his nature. I do think it was interesting that DG chose to make Jamie the victim of rape—and rape by a man at that—although it was pretty fucking horrible to read about. She might have gone a bit overboard with the gory details.5 The fact that Jamie was willing to sacrifice himself for Claire’s sake, knowing he was about to die, and then being rescued and having to cope with being a victim of rape6 was hard to read, but I felt it was handled fairly sensitively.7
  2. The scene where Jamie thrashes Claire’s behind. I totally get it; sign of the times and all that. Bits of it were amusing8, if you think of it like a naughty child trying to evade punishment from its parents, but Claire isn’t a child. It’s so hard to tell when I’m overreacting about anything these days because everything is terrible, but it just rubbed me the wrong way, even though Jamie didn’t particularly enjoy it and only did it to ease tensions between Claire and the rest of Dougal’s men, and because that’s what he knew. It’s true that there’s no excuse for such behavior, but giving an explanation isn’t the same thing.

I’m picking up the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, tomorrow, but I do have a few questions:

  1. I’m not sure I believe Dougal’s assertion that Geillis Duncan is truly dead. I wonder how she ended up traveling back through time. Also, it brings up the question of how time works in this series, since Geilie came from 1967. How long had she been in eighteenth-century Scotland? Do they all exist in parallel universes or something? Time travel screws with my mind something awful.
  2. Is Randall really dead? Frankly, I wouldn’t believe that unless I saw the death certificate myself. Also, if going back in time changes things, wouldn’t Frank never have been born if Randall was killed at Wentworth? Unless this is happening in a parallel universe, in which case, refer to number 1. I’m so confused.
  3. Will we get to see more of Jenny? Please say yes, she’s so sassy and I love her. Also, I hope someone carves Ian a new peg leg, poor fella.
  4. How exactly is Claire going to explain to anyone at the court of Prince Charles that their quest to retake the British throne is a fool’s errand?
  5. Did Claire actually take up Mrs. MacNab on her raspberry leaf tea for fertility trick? And if so, wouldn’t it be weird that technically, she’s like 175 years younger than her potential offspring?
  6. Will Claire continue to be a sassy lady? Bless her and her complete lack of self-preservation.

Overall, 10/10, my new obsession, would recommend. In the meantime…

Notes

  1. Fun fact: I’ll watch basically anything if an actor from The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit is in it. This is how I once ended up watching Through My Eyes: The Lindy Chamberlain Story. I just really like Miranda Otto, okay?!
  2. He plays the dwarf Dwalin in all three films, and is delightfully caustic.
  3. Another holdover from my early days as a Lord of the Rings fan; I saw Fellowship of the Ring without reading the book and resolved to finish the subsequent books in the trilogy before their respective films came out in theatres so I could compare and be appropriately irritated at any changes!
  4. Is that victim blame-y? I mean, he did tell her to stay put because there were patrols around, and she flagrantly disregarded his advice. I know she wanted to get back to Craigh na Dun, but nearly drowning and getting yourself captured wasn’t exactly the best way to do it.
  5. Er, there’s a bit where Randall cuts up Jamie’s chest and uses the blood as lubricant when he rapes Jamie. I am so uncomfortable even writing about this; it was that bad to read about.
  6. And let’s keep in mind Randall was using a particularly revolting sort of aversion therapy to make it so being touched by Claire would remind Jamie of the many times he was assaulted by Randall. I wanted to fucking cry when I read what he did.
  7. Although Claire’s attempt at psychotherapy and forcing Jamie to fight for his life may have been a little unrealistic and ill-informed… but I’m not gonna lie, I’m glad they worked, because if Jamie had died I was about to throw my book out of a moving car.
  8. More so in the TV show, since Catriona Balfe and Sam Heughan have such great chemistry, and Sam Heughan has that wicked smile.

3 thoughts on “Outlander — Diana Gabaldon; Bantam Books, June 1991

  1. Alison T says:

    “I can’t talk about it anymore or my temperature will spike.” OMG Liz this made me laugh for a long time, but I.A.!!!! I remember reading this book and literally rolling around in my bed from pure glee ;_;

    Tbh reading the spanking scene was easier for me than watching it, but yeah it was weird either way. I like how you mention that Jamie was inexperienced and young, and I think this scene proves that. It was all he knew at the time and if I recall correctly, he promises to never do it again. (a promise that he keeps, but anyway~) That scene is one that sparks a lot of debate for sure.

    And to (kind of?) answer your questions:
    1) 😡
    2) 😡
    3) YES!! Jenny is my fav and she’s awesome in the show
    4) 😡
    5) 😡
    6) Yes, and it’s the best thing EVER

    Anyway this post made me want to pick the series back up again! I have a bad habit of not finishing books lmao

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