Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

When my friend recommended the Outlander to me through email, I thought, “Cool, maybe I’ll get around to looking for it the next time I don’t have anything to read.”  Then when I saw her over the holidays, I asked her to refresh my memory on the book that she had recommended.  She lit up like she was on fire, and I knew immediately that I had to get this book ASAP.

I’m over fifteen years late in my adoration of the novel by Diana Gabaldon, but in my defense, when the book came out in 1991, I was only 10 years old, and although I was advanced for my age, I don’t think I was quite that advanced.

When I found a copy at Half Price Books, it was in the romance novel section, but my friend assured me that it was worth it, and I’m here to tell you that it’s totally not a Fabio-on-the-cover-bosom-heaving-through-too-tight-corset sort of romance novel.  In fact, I’m a little irritated that that’s where it’s classified.  I think it’s much more historical science fiction.  

The romance element does run through the entire story, but it’s completely believable.  There’s no page by page account of the lovers hunger for each other, and no accounts of bodice ripping behind closed doors.  Yes, there are more than a few steamy descriptions, but a lot of the detail must be inferred and much is left to the imagination, which I find contrary to most novels in the romance genre.

The basic premise is that Claire Beauchamp Randall is on her second honeymoon with her husband Frank Randall in Inverness, Scotland in 1945, just after World War II.  Claire and Frank had wed just before the war broke out.  During the war, Claire was a nurse, and Frank was a – well, I forget what Frank was because it’s not really essential to the story, but Claire and Frank were apart during the Second Great War, so they were spending some time getting reacquainted.

Through a series of events, Claire finds herself on a hilltop outside of Inverness.  On the hilltop are some standing stones – picture Stonehenge, but much smaller.  Claire gets too close to one of the standing stones, and after a seemingly inexplicable transportation, ends up in the Scottish Highlands in 1743.  At first, she can’t quite figure out what happened, but then she sees a dated document, and her worst suspicions are confirmed.

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Claire spends at least two-thirds of the book trying to get back to the hilltop and 1945.  During those five to six hundred pages, Gabaldon weaves an enchanting tale.  Because of Claire’s training as a nurse in the 20th century, she’s seen as a healer and, sometimes, a witch in the 18th century. 

Gabaldon brings the auld world and its legends vividly to life and offers a convincing explanation for the existence of “witches.”

Unlike some authors, Gabaldon does not spend pages and pages describing the Scottish landscape or the flanks of the horses or the rocks of the castles, but I have never had such a clear picture of the people and the places of a story as I do in the Outlander. 

Instead of filling close to a thousand pages with copious descriptions, she spends her time getting Claire and her Scottish protectors into and out of some pretty serious scrapes. And there are more than a few times when one wonders just how they’re going to manage this time.

I’m more than a little infatuated with anything to do with Scotland and Ireland, which I’m sure has a lot to do with why my friend recommended this book to me in the first place.  Gabaldon captures the essence of 18th century Scotland, complete with foul smells and clan rivalry. 

Most importantly, she makes me wish time travel through henges really was possible.  I’d be willing to risk my life on a daily basis and live without modern amenities if it meant being loved by a tall, handsome, burly Scottish Highlander.

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