Warning: Minor spoilers.
Outlander is another of those books that has been on my TBR list since forever (I seem to say this in every single book review!), but it was bumped up to the top after a discussion with my friend who had read it, that left me intrigued.
Outlander (originally published as Cross Stitch) tells the story of Claire Randall, who whilst on a second honeymoon in the Highlands with her husband Frank (in 1945) walks into a stone circle and finds herself transported back to 1743. Stranded in a dangerous landscape, Claire finds protection and a fierce, passionate love in the arms of a young Scots warrior, Jamie Fraser, and must decide between two different loves in two completely different lives.
My friend had told me that whilst she enjoyed Outlander, she had found quite a lot of things about it problematic, and I had read similar things in other people’s reviews. After reading it myself, I’m inclined to agree, but let’s start out with the good, shall we?
For one thing, I really liked the concept of the book. Time travel is a device that can go terribly wrong in my opinion, but I liked the way it was done in this book, with the subtle stepping through a stone circle and disappearing into the past (although the screaming rocks thing seemed a bit over the top!). I also liked the idea of a main character torn between two loves and two lives, because who doesn’t love a huge, life-changing quandary in a book?
I also liked Claire herself as a character: she’s resourceful, intelligent and witty. The easy banter and gentle teasing between her and her husband Frank at the start was heart-warming, and set up their loving marriage nicely, which then comes to form a contrast with the passionate love she later finds in Jamie.
I also liked Jamie as a character, but seen as he’s at the heart of a lot of what I found to be problematic, it was hard to ever fully like him. I did like the way his romantic relationship with Claire develops though, as it didn’t take the cliched route that I had originally thought it was going down. I had expected their growing friendship to be thrown onto rocky terrain by some terrible misunderstanding (probably involving Laoghaire), and then finally for it to be resolved by them admitting their feelings and sharing some ultra romantic (and super cheesy) kiss. Instead they are forced into a marriage of convenience, and their love develops and grows from there.
Up until the point of their marriage, the book hadn’t been as bad as I had expected in terms of the problems my friend had told me about, but unfortunately from that part on, things got a little weird…
The main scene that pops into mind is the one where Claire gets captured by Jonathan Randall (her first husband’s ancestor) after she tries to escape from the Scottish to return to the stone circle, and hopefully to Frank. Jamie successfully rescues her, only to beat her for running away, and not even in a fit of rage (not that that would be OK) – he believes he is perfectly justified in doing so because she is his wife and she was disobedient. Yes, the book is set in different times, and it isn’t only the women who get beaten in the book for ‘bad behaviour’, but the fact that he not only doesn’t regret having to do it but apparently enjoys it really changed my opinion of his character, and the way Claire comes to see what he has done as OK and forgives him entirely made me like her a lot less too. There’s also the part at Castle Leoch after Claire and Jamie return married that basically amounts to rape…but they’re married, and Jamie just can’t control himself, so it’s all fine apparently!
In fact the frequency of rape in the book was also a cause of concern for me. Yet again, I know it was set in different times, but the way the book uses rape as a device seemed kind of off. For one thing, a lot of the occasions where a character is nearly raped it seemed unnecessary to the plot, and used more for shock value, or to show that a character is ‘bad’ (except for Jamie of course…it’s fine if it’s the dashing romantic hero!). The fact that almost all of the characters who are rapists in the book are also gay was also really problematic to me. Even though the book is set in the 1700s when homosexuality was still seen as a deviance, the book itself was written in the 1990s, so there is no reason why all the gay characters should be written as predatory rapists!
I was also left totally confused (and disturbed!) by the random bit at Lallybroch where Claire and Jamie are having a nice little chat with Jamie’s sister Jenny and her husband Ian about the upcoming birth of their second child and Jenny suddenly starts acting really sexual…in front of her own brother, not to mention his wife. It was pretty awkward to say the least, and just seemed so unnecessary!
I did really like the concept of this book, and I enjoyed the story (plus the writing itself and the level of research that has clearly gone into the book is stellar!), but there was so much of it that I really struggled with. I could totally see what my friend and so many other reviewers have been talking about in regards to this book, although I am curious to check out the TV series, because I’ve heard a lot of these issues have been toned down in that.
I’d definitely say this is worth a read though, if you haven’t already, just to see what you think. I’ll hopefully get round to reading more of the series soon, as I’m curious to see how it continues, and what Claire decides to do with her knowledge of the future!