Book Review: Outlander

When I first read this book, years ago, I loved it. It’s filled with interesting, complex characters and raw, sometimes gut-wrenching emotion. OK, it may be a bit “trashy” at times, but it’s a fun read. The 18th-century Scottish (and French) setting is fascinating and feels authentic. Many of the plot twists turn normal genre conventions inside out. And the action-packed story line kept me hooked.

But I recently finished reading it again, and I guess I’ve changed since my first reading, or the world has. I still enjoyed many aspects of Outlander, and have enormous respect for Diana Gabaldon and what she has achieved here. But my relationship with the book is not as simple as I remembered.

For example, Claire quickly forgives Jamie for beating her. I never did. He says it’s because she endangered his men by leaving the spot where he ordered her to remain. She actually accepts this, and seems to think she deserved the beating. What? It’s true that he is accustomed to a world in which women obey men, and that it’s easy to believe he would feel that way. But he also knows Claire well enough at this point to know she won’t blindly follow his orders. And yet he expects her to, with no explanation of why, and he punishes her violently when she doesn’t — and even admits that he enjoyed beating her. And she — a strong, confident 20th-century woman — is OK with that? I cannot accept it.

Then there are the depictions of homosexuality. The book includes two characters who are gay. One is portrayed as ridiculous, the other as sadistic. I would have liked a more balanced viewpoint. I struggled with this, and for a while, felt like I’d had enough. And then I remembered the later introduction of Lord John Grey — an interesting, three-dimensional character who is gay. His existence makes it easier for me to stomach the one-sided characterizations of gay men in the first book. And he even gets his own book series later!

The other thing that had me rolling my eyes after a while was the ubiquitous sex scenes between Claire and Jamie. I’m not saying I have a problem with sex in a novel. But these two are like rabbits. It doesn’t matter if they’re exhausted or bleeding or traumatized, or have nine broken bones. It doesn’t matter if they’re out in the open and desperately running from English soldiers. Anytime is a good time. They just can’t seem to stop themselves.

So, my relationship with this book continues to be complicated. While I stand by everything I’ve said above, reviewing the subsequent books in the series again (and seeing more of the TV program) reminded me about the eventual addition of Lord John. And reinforced the fact that overall, Outlander is a darn enjoyable read.

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