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Rewind Reviews: OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

With the renewed interest/hype in this book due to the announcement/production of the TV miniseries based on it (which was announced a couple of months after I wrote this review last year), I thought this would be an opportune time to post this review.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Audiobook narrated by Davina Porter

OutlanderBook Blurb:
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon–when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life…and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire…and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

My Review:

Story: 1 star (DNF)
Narrator: 4 stars

      Goodreads bookshelves: audiobook, books-read-in-2013, historical-fiction, fantasy
      Read from March 17 to 27, 2013

Audiobook read by Davina Porter (excellent reader).

I put over eight hours of listening into this book (and had more than 25 hours remaining) before I gave up on it. My first problem is the whole extra-marital affair/bigamous marriage aspect. Then . . . I really just didn’t care about Claire, and because it’s 1st person, I didn’t care about anyone else. Jamie has almost no personality whatsoever. And what is the obsession with beatings equating marital and paternal love?

Claire, as a character, is not only unlikable–she’s downright unbelievable. She has almost no reaction to the time travel, and it takes her no time at all to adjust to living 200 years in the past. There’s no worry, no anxiety, over what happened to her and what it means, not just for her but FOR HER HUSBAND.

Which brings me to the biggest problem I had with this book—the husband factor. So much (too much) time is devoted in the beginning of the book to the focus on Claire’s life in the 20th century, so much so that the ONLY character I had any sympathy for in this book is Claire’s long-suffering husband, Frank. Even when she engages him in conversation, it’s patronizing at best. She doesn’t pay attention to him and basically paints him as a windbag with nothing of interest to do or say. Then, once Claire goes back in time, I got the impression that I was supposed to equate Frank with his historical counterpart, Captain Jack Randall, who is the villain of the piece, because he’s not only her husband’s ancestor, he also looks like Frank. So, now, this guy she’s legally married to in the 1940s, who has never been anything but nice and loving toward her, is supposed to suddenly be thought of as the bad guy? No thank you!

I’ve read a whole lot of reviews of this book since setting it aside, thinking that maybe I was just in a bad headspace when I tried reading/listening to it and I should give it a second chance. But, frankly, nothing I’ve read since I put this book down (actually, it’s the only audiobook I’ve ever “returned” for a refund). Some reviewers excuse Claire’s lack of shock/adjustment to the time travel because she was a battlefield nurse in WWII. No. I’m sorry, I don’t care how much trauma she saw in the war, she’s still going to have trouble adjusting to living in 18th century Scotland (which, from Gabaldon’s descriptions, sounds like it was closer to 16th or 17th century living conditions).

There isn’t a reviewer in the world who can convince me that the “romance” between Jamie and Claire isn’t wrong. Claire is married. Her husband is still alive, even if they aren’t in the same “place.” I don’t care if her husband is 200 years in the future. She’s married. End of story. But why did she need to be married? Had Claire merely been engaged to Frank or been on the trip to Scotland with a relative, Gabaldon could have still accomplished the feat of getting her where she needed to be in order to do the time travel. So, again, I ask—what’s the point of having her married in 1945 only to go back in time to be forced to marry someone else?

In addition to Claire’s easy transition to the 1700s, it’s also unbelievable to me how easily she’s accepted into the clan community. Maybe it’s because I was weaned on the Highland romances penned by the likes of Julie Garwood and Jude Deveraux in the 1980s and early 1990s, but my understanding is that Scottish clans were very insular and didn’t welcome outsiders at all—especially those from south of the border. No, granted, her acceptance wasn’t unconditional, but it was a lot wider and a lot easier than it should have been.

I know there are people who will defend this book to the death as one of the greatest romance novels ever written. And that’s your right and prerogative. But let’s clear up that misnomer—even though this book is labeled as romance, it really isn’t, at least, not once you get past the first (too-long) volume. This falls more into line with epic historical fantasy/fiction. Yes, there’s a strong element of what some would call romance (bigamous marriage, sex, beatings, sex, etc.), but the focus of the story isn’t necessarily the developing relationship of the two main characters culminating in a happily-ever-after ending, which is what defines the romance genre.

Will I watch the series once it hits Netflix streaming? I’ll at least give the first episode a go. I might like the characters better as brought to life on screen instead of how they come across in the book (remember, in the book, we’re stuck inside of Claire’s head and can never get anyone else’s thoughts or perspectives). But it will still be a hard sell for me, since my biggest problem with the book is a fundamental of the storyline.

Have you read Outlander? What did you think of it? Do you plan to watch the miniseries?

  1. Thursday, January 30, 2014 8:43 am

    You are so off base with this review that I cannot even begin to explain why. In a nutshell though, Outlander is wildly popular in multiple countries and has gained numerous awards.People love it so much that they set up websites, Pinterest sites, created You-tube videos and, fan clubs, and even a musical dedicated to Outlander. I’ve not seen such love for a book ever!! As for myself, I’m a voracious reader and a writer too and I’m very selective in what I read. Outlander has the most well drawn characters, creative prose, and Diana Gabaldon is the Queen of Heart clenching moments.. Everything that happens has a reason and btw, the reason Claire eventually (let me repeat that eventually) adjusts to the wild dangerous 1770s is she lived outdoors in the wilderness with her Uncle Lamb as a child. So who should the readers believe, one person who writes a scathing review or MILLIONS of READERS!!!


    • Thursday, January 30, 2014 9:25 am

      And if millions of people decide to jump off a cliff, according to your logic, I should blindly follow along and not think for myself, right?

      Just because a book is popular, or just because you personally love a book, doesn’t mean everyone else must like it or enjoy it. That’s the joy of the fact that there are millions of different books and authors in the world—there’s something for all tastes and all personalities.

      If I were to respond to your comment, which is your opinion, the way you responded to my review, which is my opinion, it would be to say how “so off base” you are by assuming that just because something is popular, everyone should like it. I’m sure there are some things in pop culture that millions of other people love which you don’t like—music, art, other books, movies, etc.

      Do you defend the movie Jackass with this same vehemence? If not, why not? MILLIONS of VIEWERS thought it was wonderful.

      Do you defend Justin Bieber with the same passion? If not, why not? MILLIONS of FANS think he can do no wrong.

      Just over a hundred and fifty years ago, MILLIONS of PEOPLE were convinced that slavery was not only okay but one of the pillars of society. How could they have been wrong if MILLIONS of them had the same opinion?

      Shall I mention the MILLIONS of PEOPLE in Germany in the 1930s who not only followed Hitler, but believed in his vision for the future so much that they put him into a place of power?

      How can MILLIONS of PEOPLE be wrong?


  2. Gray permalink
    Thursday, January 30, 2014 11:22 am

    Why do you feel anyone needs to know your opinion? Or that you need to downgrade a book that many others love? So you didn’t like it, shut up and move on. I can’t get into/and or like many books or movies, but I don’t feel the need to run out and blast them with my singular opinion. Here’s my opinion, since you felt you need to give the world yours: You sound like a self-aggrandizing narcissist who blogs because feels that the world needs to know what you think, and therefore should think like you. I do thank you for one thing, after reading your review I would have run out and bought the book(s) because you came across as such a narrow minded self righteous prig. More money for Ms. Gabaldon, courtesy of you.


    • Thursday, January 30, 2014 11:57 am

      Right. Because no one else ever writes book reviews that express the reviewer’s personal opinion and thoughts. Good to know.


  3. Sarah R permalink
    Thursday, January 30, 2014 1:48 pm

    I wanted to like this book but instead it left me feeling disturbed and perplexed. I was drawn to it initially because the story took place in Scotland, it involved time travel and a time period I am interested in. With all those elements, it had to be a winner, right? Wrong! I don’t know why the author felt the heroine had to be married to begin with or why it was necessary to show so much violence (constant beatings and assault), even if such violence was historically accurate. I felt like she focused on a lot of things that weren’t that vital to the storyline and that the book could have been a lot shorter if she had taken the time to do some serious self- editing. Usually, I love long historical novels but this one just felt like it was drudgery to me. And I still can’t get past the fact that she’s married to two men at the same time (even if they do live in different eras). There are too many great books out there for me to waste my time investing in this series when I don’t even really care about the characters at all. I think I’ll pass on the miniseries as well.


    • Thursday, January 30, 2014 2:11 pm

      Sarah, thanks for stopping by!

      I was drawn to this book for the same reasons. I love me a good medieval Highlands romance novel. I love me a good historical novel. I want to love a good time travel novel (I’ve yet to find one I would really call “good”—but it’s one of my goals for this year’s reading challenge). So this book seemed to have all of the right elements. And, as the two commenters above pointed out, this is a beloved book. So it had to be great. Unfortunately, I learned otherwise.

      So, yeah. I was very disappointed that I didn’t like it. It just goes to show that not everything is greater than the sum of its parts.


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