Review | Outlander (Outlander, #1) by Diana Gabaldon

Unpopular opinion alert! 2/5.

Outlander by Diana GabaldonOutlander by Diana Gabaldon

The blurb: 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.

My take:

Sorry, but this is one of those reviews where I’m going to have to resort to bulletpoints…

On the one hand:

  • the premise is great.
  • the writing style is excellent. It’s smooth and enveloping. It lulls you in and doesn’t let you go. Even though this book is far too long and needlessly repetitive (a good third could be cut and you’d have a better book), you keep turning the pages, wanting to know what happens next. Although, I will admit that, as I hit the final third I did start skimming to get to the end quicker.
  • the characterisation is good. We are given a complex, varied and memorable cast.
  • the historical detail is very good. You can’t fault the amount of effort Gabaldon must have put into the research of early 18th century Scotland.

I feel I need to give credit for all these things and say I can understand why so many readers love this book. However, the things that I can’t like about this book are serious and so I can’t bring myself to give it a 3 star rating. Three stars means “ok” and I can’t say that of some of the things depicted in this book.

The things which are very much not “ok” began to appear in Part 3. Without wishing to spoil things, let’s just say that events started to remind me of The Taming of the Shrew and, historical accuracy be damned, as a 21st century reader I can’t shake these things off or forgive a character I’m supposed to love for their deplorable actions. Which he admits he enjoyed, by the way. And I couldn’t pardon the other key character for forgiving their abuser and accepting that they “deserved” the abuse. No. Sorry. Just no.

And as if romanticised spousal abuse weren’t bad enough, there’s the homophobia. All instances of homosexuality in this book were linked to rape, the threat of rape and/or sadistic torture.

So, what I’m trying to say is: this book has its good points. And until the events of Part, 3 I was enjoying the adventure fairly untroubled. But once events started to upset me, I became less inclined to overlook the book’s other faults, including the aspects which made me deeply uneasy and/or queasy.

On the other hand, I’m a compulsive completist and, as I believe in giving an author a second chance, I will read the next book at some point. After a decent break.

Overall: if you don’t notice the things which annoyed me (or think I’m just taking it all too seriously), I’m sure you’ll enjoy the adventure and romance in this book without having any of my issues. But I did notice them and it ruined my enjoyment of the otherwise good aspects of the book 😦


Claire Huston / Art and Soul

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40 thoughts on “Review | Outlander (Outlander, #1) by Diana Gabaldon

  1. Thanks for the honest review. I have this one my shelf after picking it up at Barnes & Noble’s 3 for 2 table. I am curious about it and want to read the book before seeing the series and will give it a read anyway, but I appreciate your opinion about the spousal abuse and homophobic tones. No one tells you about those things when they tell you how good the series is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s such a shame because otherwise it has so much going for it, which is why I can understand why so many readers love it. But once I’d noticed those things they just niggled and niggled and ruined the rest of the book for me 😦

      Like

  2. Hmm….I’ve been waiting for this review because this series has been recommended to me multiple times over the years. I’m not big into historical fiction (or time travel) and I’ve been putting it off because it would be such a time commitment. Your review has me pushing Outlander even further down my list of books to read eventually. I think you’re a great judge of books, so I have a feeling I might agree with your take on it. I appreciate your candid review.

    By the way, I actually liked your bullet points. It made the review easy to read. I think I might have to implement bullet points in my reviews more often after reading this! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I tend to wheel out the bulletpoints when I’m in real difficulty! 🙂
      I didn’t want to be too harsh on this book because there are many people who love it, and I know some of them and they’re not people who would condone spousal abuse or homophobia at all. That’s why I wanted to stress that it’s a very personal thing: once I noticed these things I couldn’t un-notice them. However, if they didn’t jump out at you, then you’d have a completely different experience of the book.
      Such a tricky one. It made my think of Twilight. I read the whole series quickly and thought it was just harmless entertainment, but then there are those who have serious issues with the books on the grounds of them portraying an abusive relationship as a romantic one… and I must admit I didn’t notice it/see it that way at all!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ouch! I’m definitely afraid now to pick up Outlander myself, because it really sounds like I will most likely have a similar reaction. Great review though! Now at least I know what to expect (and maybe a good excuse as well to pospone it for a while longer. 😉 )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!
      It was a tough review to write because I didn’t want it to sound like I was being nasty about anyone who enjoyed it. I can completely understand why people like the book because if I could ignore my serious issues it’s good stuff. Gabaldon has a talent and that’s why I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and read the next book in the series (although I’ll probably put it off for a while) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can definitely understand that; I have been having a lot of ‘unpopular’ opinion reviews as well this year. Sometimes a book just isn’t for everyone even if it does have a lot of fans… And since we tend to have similar opinions, I’m beginning to think Outlander wouldn’t be for me either. (I actually tried reading the first few pages a few months back, but ended up reading something else instead).

        Liked by 1 person

    • Very true!
      As I was writing this review, I kept thinking about the Twilight series. I read them very quickly, finding them highly entertaining, light reads. I was shocked to discover (years later) that they offend many readers who see the central romance as an abusive, creepy relationship! I didn’t see it like that at all!
      Just goes to show… we all see different things in the same books 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh noes! I’m sorry it didn’t rock your world, but! I definitely understand your points. The domestic violence was something which pissed me off as well. And the amount of rape…was that reallynecessary?? The last part of the book was way too long winded for me too, so I admit to skimming a little here and there as well. The reason why I haven’t started book 2 yet is because I’m afraid it will take me really long to read it and there are so many other books waiting to be read!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love your honest review, Claire! I think I mentioned before that I wasn’t a big fan of the first book, but found the second one to be stronger. I think I was caught up in the Scottish highlands and keep coming back for that reason, but all your points are valid and thank you for being brave enough to share them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!
      I’m glad to hear you thought the second book was better. I do want to give it the benefit of the doubt and continue because, apart from the issues I point out, the book has a lot going for it and Gabaldon is certainly a skilled (if long-winded) storyteller.
      I can only hope my experience of the next one is overwhelmingly positive 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I tried to read this book a few years ago and couldn’t get past the first hundred pages. I wasn’t connecting with any of the characters and there was a bit too much romance for me. I gave up because it was so long, but I do want to attempt it again someday!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely worth attempting. I must admit that things didn’t really “get going” for at least 100 pages and I understand why you gave up! The first 50 pages, in particular, were hard going…
      I’m going to take a decent break before I read the next one in the series. I’m hoping that one’s brilliant and features none of the issues I saw in the first one.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It can be really hard to reconcile your feelings about content like this with knowing that so many people love it. When I read Captive Prince and realised how rapey it was, I was really shocked that people whose opinions I respect and who I know would never condone that sort of thing were giving it glowing reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly!
      I had an issue with “rape as plot device” in An Ember in the Ashes. It’s just lazy writing. Also “rape/threats of rape as way of showing a character is a nasty piece of work”. Think a bit harder people and give us something original.

      It’s incredible how sometimes you notice these things and other times you don’t. I often wonder if it comes down to the sort of week I’m having when I’m reading a specific book/how tired I am! If my brain’s not firing on all cylinders, these things can slip past you, I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting review. I’ve mostly only heard good things about the series, so it’s nice to see a review that highlights the good and the bad.

    I noticed in the comments above you pointed out that sometimes you notice issues more than others, and I think that’s so true. It’s one of the reasons so many of us take ‘breaks’ from genres or even just sub-genres, to keep from burning out (or relieve the burn out) and because we know that there are good works and things we like in among the similar, repetitive, or upsetting/queasy. And, too, sometimes tone, characters, length or perceived audience can change what a reader might find acceptable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely.
      I think in this specific case it didn’t help that after the wife beating incident, the book didn’t drop it but made several references to it throughout the rest of the story (another 550 pages or so). It was almost as if the author was trying to apologise for it or say, “look, in the historical context it’s perfectly normal and acceptable”. Which just irritated me even more!

      Liked by 1 person

      • If you’re going to include a historical fact like that, include it and leave it. Don’t keep going back to it unless the wife in question keeps mentally going back to it or something like that.

        Liked by 1 person

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  10. It’s good to see honest reviews and I’m glad you made the points you did, as I think I would also be put off by the aspects that you didn’t like. This isn’t really one I’d want to pick up anyway but it gets recommended as being a really good series so I’ve always thought I’d try it at some point. Time is too short and the TBR too long so I think I’ll pass on Outlander!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The length of all the books in the series is what had been putting me off for ages. I’m glad I gave it a try though because, if nothing else, I was very impressed by all her research into the Scottish Highlands in the eighteenth century. I’m always amazed at all the work historical fiction writers put in!

      Like

    • I might have been able to let it go, but the book weirdly keeps bringing these issues up! It’s almost as if it’s desperately trying to apologise for them by going, “It’s the 18th century, so it’s ok” and I’m like, “But I’m a 21st century reader and this isn’t cool.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • I get what you’re saying. That’s one thing that bothers me about historical fiction and is one reason why I tend to stick with YA historical fiction as I find it doesn’t happen so much there. I get that they might be going for authenticity, but really. It’s fiction – you can leave it out lol

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I was really torn on the same part – in the end, there was enough else there to make me kind of pretend it didn’t happen and whistle by, but I don’t love it – and it’s actually not nearly as historically accurate as I’ve heard the author claims (I’m a bit of a geek about both Scottish history and feminism, and while it wouldn’t have been unheard of, it’s far from inevitable). One thing I do like is the way it ultimately develops their relationship… but yeah, I mostly pretend it never happened!

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I get round to continuing with the series, I’ll have to do the same! I think I’m going to try and hit the reset button on my memory for that area of the plot and hope events are different enough in the other books to keep my selective amnesia in place! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ish is the short answer to that, I think! There’s at least one incident per book that I’ve whistled past – I definitely have a love/hate relationship with them, as I throw them against the wall regularly, but somehow keep reading!

        Liked by 1 person

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