by Diana Gabaldon
In lieu of the Scottish vote yesterday on the independence referendum it seemed appropriate to replace today’s Friday Findings with the review of Outlander. Although current Scots chose to remain a part of the United Kingdom, the Scottish in Outlander have far less sympathy for their English neighbors.
Double the History
Set during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, Outlander touches upon the historically tense relationship between the English and the Scottish. Redcoats harass the Scottish Highlands, while the Scottish warriors rebel in numerous ways that today may be called guerrilla warfare.
The historical context of Outlander is actually two-fold, as it is a story of time travel. Claire Randall (born Beauchamp) is a World War II army nurse on vacation in Inverness after reuniting with her husband, Frank. Their wartime separation adds another dimension to the book’s historical setting, as Claire and Frank represent one reality of relationships in post-war Britain. In spite of their love and attraction, they are hesitant and cautious around each other.
Diana Gabaldon does a wonderful job of weaving history into the plot. Through Frank’s ancestral search for information about the infamous Captain “Black Jack” Randall, readers learn about English-Scottish relations as seen through a modern lens. Then, after Claire falls through time, readers get a different perspective that softens towards the Scottish but hardens against the brutality of the English.
As with any historical fiction, the background and setting of a story should reflect fact as much as possible. Gabaldon, as an American, clearly did her research and had excellent references. She describes the clothing, landscape and weaponry of 1745 Scotland in detail. These descriptions make the 18th century world come off the page.
Additionally, Gabaldon gives her characters authentic speech. The dialogue of the Scottish highlanders may require translation for some readers. This accented speech may have you reading the story in your mind in a muddled Scottish accent!
A particularly well researched and authentic piece of Outlander is Claire’s knowledge of herbalism. Beyond articulating the specific uses of plants throughout the book, Claire’s herbalism addresses a potential gap in plot. Having fallen in time from 1945 to 1745, Claire finds a way to integrate herself into society through nursing. However, her WWII nursing knowledge cannot be much help in a pre-germ theory culture. Gabaldon gracefully handles this conundrum by having Claire’s post-war hobby be botany. It is a logical move from botany to herbalism with Claire’s nursing background.
Outlander in Love
Romance is a key plot line throughout the story (and series). Claire, the outlander, leaves her 1945 love Frank for the brutish Scots of 1745. She mourns her lost husband, struggling to comprehend that the man she loves is not dead but, instead, not yet born. During particular inner monologues, the reader can feel Claire’s loss of love. She is evidently distressed at once again being separated from Frank.
Circumstances arise, however, that require Claire to marry a Scotsman for her own safety. This marriage of necessity quickly turns passionate and results in a tumultuous adventure that spans the whole Outlander series. Through bloodshed, numerous rescue attempts and drastic differences in gender relations, Claire and Jamie, her new husband, develop a historical romance.
The love story lends itself to some steamy scenes that added a romance novel twist to the book. Having picked up the book primarily for its historical fiction quality, the romance was a bit overbearing. The love story did become engaging and a few tears here and there may have been shed. However, it was still disappointing for Outlander to turn out to be much more a tale of romance than any other plot.
The only reason the romance did not kill the story was because the characters were so well-developed. Early on in the book various characters capture your heart and others result in visceral reactions of disgust. This bond formed between reader and characters made is possible to embrace the love story even if you had hoped for a more history heavy book.
An Escape in Time
Overall Outlander was an exciting read. The book has a little bit of everything to entice its readers — history, romance, war, etc. On her website, Diana Gabaldon explains that this mix of genres was intentional. She originally intended Outlander to be a practice book that no one would ever see. Yet, this “practice” turned into an eight book series and a new Starz original show!
It is easy to see how Gabaldon’s practice book became a hit. She crafted dynamic and complicated characters. The dialogue is sharp, witty and realistic. Her descriptions are vivid, making the Scottish highlands come to life in your mind’s eye. Outlander, with its varied content, has something for everyone.
If you are looking for an escape book with history and romance, look no further than Outlander. By the end you may want to immediately book a vacation to Scotland and disappear into the heather covered hills for a while.
The books in the OUTLANDER series have sold over 20 million copies worldwide, and have been translated into many languages. Click here for a chronology of the main novels and stories in the series.
The eighth major novel in the OUTLANDER series,WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD, will be published in June, 2014.
Have you read Outlander?
I’m hesitant to read the rest of the series due to the romance. If you’ve read the whole series what are your thoughts?