Outlander. Oh, gracious. I did not go into reading (alert: listening) to Outlander (first published in 1991) with particularly high expectations. I was fully aware that it was more or less fluff fiction, and technically a romance at that. But there was time travel and Scotland, two wonderful things in my opinion, and technically the Time Traveler’s Wife is a romance and that’s one of my favorite books, so… When Outlander came up as a Daily Deal on Audible, I thought, why not?
And then I realized it was 33 hours long. Thirty-three very, very long hours.
This is a case of wondering if I should have read the book vs. listening to it, because I can read faster than someone can read a book out loud, and I probably would have finished months ago if I had read it on paper. As it is, I’ve dragged it out for months, listened to other books in the meantime, and avoided listening to books entirely to avoid finishing it.
Let me say this. It’s not that bad. It’s not like trying to read 50 Shades of Gray where the writing is just so terrible you are offended on behalf of the English language. The writing is functional, and the sex scenes are actually fairly well done. It’s difficult to write sex well, and the sex in Outlander is one of the best parts of the book (and I imagine the reason most women read it).
But there’s so little else of substance that I found myself monumentally bored in the interim. This is one of those cases where an editor with a big black marker was really necessary, and apparently left out. There are so many scenes that fail to add to the story in any tangible way that I found myself starting to resent the author and wondered how it could be possible for there to be, what, eight books in the series? What else could possibly happen? Possibly Gabaldon felt the need to add a lot of filler to justify the sex scenes, but even then it could be a much stronger story with some judicious editing. After the British capture one of the characters for possibly the fifth time, I actually caught myself rolling my eyes. Something else had to happen in this epic.
I haven’t seen the tv series, but I think it could be better. The action scenes are episodic, with a whole lot of nothing in between, so I can see how the format of a television show would work well, assuming they cut out all the filler. The book does occasionally pick up during fight scenes, but in the meantime we (or at least I) are bored to tears by scenes of Claire delivering foals in the stables. I would only worry that without the filler scenes, every episode would be: “This week on Outlander! Someone is captured by the British! And next week: Someone else is captured by the British!”
Though the pacing and lack of editing are by far the worst issue, I also had issues with Claire, the narrator. She is generally far too willing to accept the injustices of the 18th century, or at least inconsistently willing to challenge them, even in her thoughts. She protests the mistreatment of children and violence in general, but seems ready to accept that women have no rights whatsoever without batting an eye. There are, I suppose, two excuses: the book itself was written in 1991, and Claire is from 1945. Certainly many women were less vocal in claiming their rights in 1945. But Claire is also meant to be educated, well-traveled, and a professional—I have a hard time believing she is mentally prepared to roll over and accept her place in 17-whatever. She occasionally protests or complains, and I can imagine many women would think her a strong character in defending her rights against the men who continually lock her up. Author Diana Gabaldon describes Claire as a “smart-ass.”
However, it’s the same problem that bothers me in entirely modern tales of romance. The woman gives up everything, including her own self and sense of purpose, for her husband. There is an incident where Jamie, Claire’s Scottish husband, beats her for trying to run away. Actually beats her with a belt until she has trouble sitting down. The action is explained away by Jamie as a means of educating Claire as to her place, and Jamie tells many stories about his father beating him to teach him to think about the consequences of his actions, but for the entire rest of the book I keep thinking, how can she forgive this man for beating her? I don’t care what time period it is, I don’t care how the action is justified, if a man beat me with a belt for trying to leave to go about my own business, I would stab him in his sleep. But Claire only seems to love Jamie more. I personally cannot stand the idea of perpetuating these standards of relationships, no matter how subtly presented, and no matter the context. I understand that the novel is meant to be historic, but forgive me if I don’t think we need another book in the world encouraging women to allow their husbands to rule their lives in the name of love.
If you still have any desire to read this book—if, for example, you generally try to read the book before watching the show—I’m going to offer one more deterrent: Claire meets the Loch Ness Monster. Yes. I can accept mysterious time travel, for the sake of placing a modern woman in a historic setting (which at least sounds like an interesting plot), but the Loch Ness Monster was one too many for me.
Where I got Outlander: Listened to it on Audible