Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon


Author: Diana Gabaldon
Release: June 1st 1991
Genre: Romance, Historic, Time Travel, Adult
#1 in the Outlander series
Sequels: Dragonfly in Amber (#2), Voyager (#3), Drums of Autumn (#4), The Fiery Cross (#5), A Breath of Snow and Ashes (#6), An Echo in the Bone (#7), Written in my own Heart's Blood (#8), Untitled (#9)


The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just 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 circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.


Outlander is a book that has no substance, no plot except for the romance and it apparently only has two characters. Everything and anyone else is unimportant to the story and thus, will be disregarded and not included in the story.

Such as a substantial, solid plot line. There are things happening, don't get me wrong, but they are always so closely tied in with the romance, happening because of it or to further it along or showcase it, or ... it's just, I wish there had been something going along outside of the romance as well. Things that only concerned Claire or only Jamie, but no. I signed up for a heavy romance when I started reading this, but apparently I didn't read the fine print that said that I would be absolutely smothered by it. 

The small amount of romance-related plot seemed interesting up until 30% in, where the book just kept on dragging endlessly. The new setting of historical Scottish Highlands in the 18th century was fascinating and interesting at first, especially because you can clearly see that Gabaldon put a lot of time and effort into researching it in excruciating detail. I won't even bother commenting on historic accuracy because I am under no illusion that I am an expert in that time period, but at least it felt like it was pretty true. However, she also quickly threw in some stereotypes, like that "Scottish noise" they make, about which my Scottish friend was very confused when I told her about that. Which reminds me, I absolutely, positively, definitely fucking hate phonetic writing. I had to ask my Scottish friends many questions about the language as well, which was breaking the immersion so hard, when Gabaldon's intention with this was the complete opposite and to make it even more authentic. I'm sorry, but just use fucking English. You cannot even begin to understand, how fuming mad I am about fucking stupid, shitty phonetic writing.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I have no fucking idea how I could bear to actually plow through this. It couldn't have been the characters, because they were, except for Claire, almost unbearable, too. I liked Claire because she had quirks, an actual, solid personality for most of the novel and she was memorable. That might have been just her narration that made her stand out and made me know things about her that I had to read between the lines, because everything else was always handed to me on a silver platter of awkward dialogue. Jamie talks about his past, other people talk about Jamie's past, he talks about his own past again, other people comment on what a good lad he is, etc. I don't think there is anything about Jamie that hasn't been told to me explicitly. It was so tiring and tedious constantly having to read about Jamie's monologues about how he was tortured by Randall, laughing about how his father beat him, the day Randall apparently raped his sister, tales about his time with the Duke of Sandringham, ...  I could go on. It never ends and it's boring as fuck. Not to mention Jamie's absolute bipolarity and complete and utter preposterous characterization. Sure, Claire conveniently marries a handsome and young Scot, who is 23 years old and still a virgin, but then is already the super-lover who knows exactly how to please a woman on the third try. Yeah, sure. Not only that, but he wanted to marry Claire out of love, because he knew the first moment he met her that she was the one for him. Are you serious? Fucking really?

Randall is the 100% evil villain who is such a cardboard stereotype evil villain with no interesting aspects at all and Frank is a mere plot device to squeeze sympathy for Claire out of the reader even though it is blatantly obvious how much she doesn't love him when she commits adultery and marries someone else one month into her time travelling escapade. She does this after half-hearted protests with almost no resistance at all, which I'm not condemning this in and of itself, but what irritates me about this is that Frank is just another obstacle for the romance to overcome, sending out the message that love conquers all and that Jamie and Claire's love for each other surpasses all, because she chooses him over Frank and her own time period. If he had been an actual character in the book instead of a simple plot device to help characterize Jamie and Claire's relationship.

I should probably also talk about exactly that. I didn't even mind their romance itself so much, more so the circumstances and general situation around it, as mentioned above. However, there is one thing I do not like, and that is Jamie's attitude towards Claire. There is one scene in the book that has everyone in an outrageous uproar, but personally I'm not even offended by the act itself, but rather, by Jamie's reaction a couple chapters after that, when Claire is still pissed off at him for doing that and doesn't want to sleep with him, when he reacts thus:
“I didna ask your preferences in the matter, Sassenach,” he answered, voice dangerously low. “(...) your part of the proceedings included the word 'obey.' You're my wife and if I want ye, woman, then I'll have you, and be damned to ye.”
That is abusive as fuck. And even though he comes crawling back literally two fucking minutes after that and asks sweetly and nicely if she'll have him and she even forgives him and consents to sex with him, I am still very worried that he even showed this side of him in the first place. Especially considering that it is so at odds with his kind of happy-go-lucky attitude and general characterization of being an attentive, doting and gentle husband. There are other instances where he displays a more abusive side like this right here, and it's very disconcerting.

However, I think this romance-heavy smooch fest might even have been minimally bearable had the writing not been so utterly catastrophic. Gabaldon's word choice could be unfortunate at best and extremely irritating at worst, and her knack for describing every tiny little thing in agonizing detail really, really was not appreciated. When Claire accidentally travels back in time, she tries to describe what she's feeling and I swear it took about two pages to just find synonymous explanations for it the whole time. There is one whole chapter about Claire where she is plucking herbs near a lake and sees some sort of fish or other and wonders about that. A whole fucking chapter. The fuck? Was that truly necessary? It's mentioned that once and then never again. Like Gabaldon decided one day that she doesn't have enough pages yet ALREADY and chose to include the most random scene she could think up. The dialogue was awfully stilted and artificial at times, which was especially the case when characters talk about Jamie's back story again and again which just made me acutely aware that those parts were not seamlessly sown into the fabric of the story, but rather, are simply there to enlighten us about Jamie as a character. A plot device, nothing more. That dialogue is not gonna show us anything about the character who is speaking (except if it's Jamie himself), nor their relationship to Claire, whom they're presumably talking to. Aight, gotcha there. My fault for trying to see some bigger picture.

In the end, I am just so immensely disappointed and kind of angry, because ... I don't even know why. I was really in the mood for this book, it called to me and I answered, but then it just threw the door in my face and ran away giggling, like it was only a prank. There's even a German word for exactly that: Schellenputzen. Doorbell cleaning. It was that, only much, much worse.

PS: “Capital, Capital!" was such a hard throwback to the Grey Fox from The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Probably one of the only parts of the book I enjoyed.

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