Monday, July 30, 2012

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

My Rating: 1.0 / 5.0

Amazon Rating: 4.30 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.03 / 5.00

It is 1945 and Claire Randall has been released from her duties as an army nurse and returned to Britain. She has reunited with her husband of eight years, Frank, who has been working as an intelligence officer for the duration of the war. Having been apart for most of the last six years they have decided to take a second honeymoon in the north of Scotland. There they visit an ancient stone circle and secretly observe a druidic ritual. When Claire returns to the circle next day, she falls through one of the stones and travels back in time two hundred years.

In 1743, Claire finds herself in the middle of a skirmish between a group of English soldiers and some Highlanders. She is attacked by the English commander, who happens to be Frank’s famous ancestor, Jonathon Randall, but rescued by the Scots. She is taken to meet the leader of the Mackenzie clan and begins to find a role for herself as the clan healer. However, she also meets the young and attractive Jamie Fraser, and life becomes more complicated.

I was reading this book quite recently as part of a read along, but I gave up about half way through. Why?

Let us start with the research into Britain in 1945. I am British so the glaring errors in the author’s portrayal of the post-war Highlands were very annoying. I will only mention the two most glaring errors. Firstly, Claire and Frank are staying in a Bed and Breakfast with a little old lady, in a tiny village near Inverness, who has a car. At this time in the UK the only people likely to own a car would have been the local doctor, vet, lawyer and perhaps the vicar: in other words, a person of wealth. Secondly, there is the fact that Claire and her husband are both serving in the military, but by the autumn of 1945 they have both been de-mobbed: this is possible, but not likely as Victory in Japan was not declared until August 15th.

Then there are the Scottish accents. I lived in Aberdeenshire for 20 years, so I have heard a lot of Scots speaking, and Ms Gabaldon’s dialogue is very hit and miss to my ear. She does include some nice Scottish words like ‘slaters’ and ‘oxters’ (woodlice and armpits for the non-Scots-speaking), but the accent that she depicts seems to owe far more to Mr Scott from Star Trek than to real Scots speakers. Also, all the Scots have exactly the same accent, which is not at all believable knowing how they are so different from one another even now with modern communication. I cannot really comment on the accuracy on Ms Gabaldon’s other research of the Highlands during the 1740s, because it is not a period that I have studied. I hope it is better than her study of the more modern era.

However, my biggest issue with the book was Claire’s infidelity. She married Frank in 1937/8 and they had been apart for six out of the eight years because of the war. While she is still in 1945, Frank makes a comment to her about how he could forgive her for any indiscretions during their time apart. Many in the Read Along saw this as Frank hinting that he had been unfaithful to Claire, but I am not so sure about that. Later, Claire remembers that she had infatuations with other men during the war, going so far as to kiss some of them. It seems to me that Frank is very perceptive about her ability to be faithful because when Claire is rescued / captured by a group of Highlanders she is immediately drawn to Jamie. For totally contrived and unbelievable reasons she HAS to marry Jamie and it HAS to be consummated, but, although she is still planning to return to Frank, instead of bouncing on the bed and making sex noises she actually does the deed with Jamie. Repeatedly. In fact, so frequently that I was amazed that she could get back on her horse. However, she is only marginally conflicted about this and has few moments of regret and a couple of twinges of guilt.

Most of the Read Along group were more than happy for Claire to forget about Frank and team up with Jamie, but I found it very difficult to stomach. If she had grieved for Frank and decided that she was stuck in the past and then ‘moved on’ emotionally, I could have accepted her decision much more easily, but she didn’t and I couldn’t. She even makes an unwise attempt to run away from the Highlanders and return to the stone circle with the idea of going back to 1945 and Frank. The whole issue of her infidelity was glossed over so that she could enjoy her time with Jamie, which made me wonder why on Earth Ms Gabaldon decided to make her married in the first place.

A second big issue was the portrayal of the bad guys, which eventually led to me putting the book aside. I am going to gloss over the fact that they are both English, and I was not even overly offended by the fact that Captain Randall, the main baddy and Frank’s great- great- ancestor, tries to rape Claire at every opportunity. His casual attitude to rape was shared by the Highlanders and I found it totally offensive at all times, as it made it an acceptable activity for all men, who cannot control themselves, and placed the blame for being raped squarely on ‘careless’ women. No, it was the fact that his interest in rape was extended to include, shock, horror, MEN as well, that finally made me put this book to one side. Both Captain Randall and his patron, the Duke of Sandringham, are homosexuals, renowned for their pursuit of young boys and men. We are told of the Duke’s attempted rape of Jamie and that Randall offered to cancel a beating if Jamie would have sex with him.

You see, the Scots are depicted as ‘good’ rapists: they only rape women who do not have the sense to stay out of their way. But the bad guys are gay, so they will rape anything, and, they are pedophiles as well, because that is all part and parcel of being gay. What? Homosexuals are not pedophiles, nor do they necessarily go around raping other men. I know that rape is often used as a way to assert power and is often seen after military conquests, but this was not what was shown here. The Captain makes his offer to Jamie in private and the Duke is described as soft and having a high-pitched voice, attempting to grope lads at any opportunity. I know that the book was written twenty years ago, but this homophobic attitude is still offensive in the extreme.

It is not often that a book manages to offend me quite so much as this book did. Those of you who have read some of my other reviews will know that I have a real problem reading about infidelity and rape, both of which were dismissed as just part of life in this book. The issue of Claire’s adultery seemed totally unnecessary, as the main story of travelling back in time and adapting to that society could have provided more than enough interest without a previous marriage. If I was supposed to think badly of Frank, and so feel happy that Claire abandoned him at the first opportunity for Jamie, then he needed to be a really awful husband, rather than a nice and considerate man.

I know that this is a wildly popular book, but I obviously bring a very different mind set to it than a lot of the other readers. I tend to be a little wary about Romance novels, especially those that are based in historical British settings but are not written by British authors, because they usually provide such an irritatingly warped view of my home country. Coupled with an apologist attitude towards infidelity and rampant homophobia, this made Outlander a highly unpalatable cocktail to me.  

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  1. Ouch, lol. Well, I can't comment much on the historical accuracies or the accents - I'm American and have very little knowledge of either, so I never had an issue there. When I first read Outlander I did feel SOME sympathy for Frank even though I thought he was boring and inattentive, but after reading the other books in the series and learning more about him, I can't stand him. I don't think that Claire cheated on Frank during the war, but I did feel uneasy about her taking to Jamie so quickly... but then again, given her situation I could understand her actions to come degree. Not that I would have done the same, but still.

    I will say however that I disagree with that Gabaldon is homophobic, although I can see how you got that feeling. When I first read Outlander, Randall and Sandringham struck me as bad guys because one was a sadist and the other was a pedophile, but not because they were gay. (Oddly, that they had theat in common didn't really cross my mind.) In fact starting in the second or third book, a very prominent and well-loved character is Lord John Grey and he's gay. Gabaldon has even given him his own series of mystery-type books, in which we learn more about his life separate from his appearances in the Outlander series. As for the casual attitude towards rape, I disagree again - while I don't remember specifically for the first book, throughout the series there are several more men who are rapists, and they're all depicted as bad guys no matter what their nationality or sexual preference was.

    Anyways, that's my little two cents. I'm sad you didn't enjoy the book, but I'm sure that if I had a better background in the historical stuff it might have rubbed me the wrong way too.

  2. Oh and thanks for the shout-out :-) You're a sweetheart.

  3. I am glad to hear that there is a more positive portrayal of a gay man later in the series, as it would offer a more balanced view. I think my attitude to the rape solidified when we were shown the clan gathering and all the women hid away because they weren't safe to walk the castle with all the drunken men lurking about. 

    I am constantly amazed at how little research some authors do when writing about a culture that they do not know: perhaps this is why I tend to prefer fantasy! :D

  4. You're welcome: and I wanted to reflect the fact that I am unusual in not liking the book.

  5. I like this series and read all of them but I can appreciate your dislike when it comes to historical inaccuracies. That's turned me off a few books as well. I can't comment on the ones you mentioned, I'm an American and my knowledge is limited as far as this time period is concerned, but you make a good point.

    As for the characters, I liked Jamie but Claire can be annoying and the way she turned off her time period and just went with it doesn't always work, even in the later books. I'm all for strong female characters but sometimes she gets to be too much. Also, the sex, especially in the later books, made me skim. I'm far from a prude but sometimes it's all these two do.

    Sorry you didn't enjoy it, but hey, not every book is for every person. And, nice review. I like when someone makes me think differently about a book.

  6. I was also sorry that I didn't enjoy the book, because it sounded very promising, but I just could not like Claire, although I did find Jamie rather appealing! :)


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