Before I get started I should be very clear about one thing, I generally do not like “romance” novels, unless we are talking classics. After the hell that was my experience with Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight and basically every other recent contemporary or YA romance that I have read, I have avoided them like the plague. Then I heard about a time travel romance set in eighteenth century Scotland – how could I pass that up?
It is 1945, the war has ended and Claire Randall is reconnecting with her husband Frank on a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands. While gathering plants by the ancient stone circle at Craigh na Dun, Claire passes out only to awaken in 1743. Understandably bewildered, she gets caught up in a fight between two local clans and has a less than pleasant encounter with none other than her husband’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, Black Jack Randall, before being carried away by a band of Scotsmen. It doesn’t take long for Claire to realise the danger she is in and she takes her only chance of safety, which lies in Jamie Fraser, a young Scottish soldier who she finds herself undeniably drawn towards. Torn between Frank and Jamie, Claire struggles to choose between the life that she had in the future and the life that she is living in the past.
Outlander is an over the top, trashy, fluffy, sweeping epic and by all rights it should be awful and I should have hated it, yet it is so unapologetic and honest about what it is that I couldn’t help but get completely caught up in the story. There is fighting, adventure, romance, sex, drama and a lot of fainting! Yes, fainting! I don’t think I have read a book that was published post-1900 that has so much swooning and fainting in it! As for the setting, the Scottish Highlands were perfect for this story, they are wild, dangerous, beautiful, and vast, and there is something particularly appealing about living in a time where nature isn’t scarred by development and the pace of life is much slower, if much more dangerous and much less certain.
When it came to Claire as a character, I found myself spending a large chunk of the novel going back and forth between liking her and finding her exceptionally annoying. Despite being a competent nurse during the war I found it strange that she spent a lot of her time acting like a petulant child (putting the lives of her companions at risk on multiple occasions) and she seemed somewhat disagreeable at times (her constant sarcastic comments regarding Frank’s interests). She did grow on me, however, and when she was with Jamie, Gabaldon managed to make her appear vulnerable while still remaining strong, and she is certainly resourceful and resilient; for a heroine in a romance novel she is surprisingly practical and makes some pretty big decisions without sentiment clouding her judgement. So, while I don’t imagine we would get along very well I did enjoy her as a heroine. The only thing that I didn’t understand was her ambivalence towards her husband, Frank. She claims to love him but from the beginning it seemed as though she found him boring, they seemed to have no shared interests (other than sex) and I didn’t really believe her when she occasionally remembered to be sad about his being 200 years in the future, it felt almost as if he was added solely to create conflict within Claire and to give her a reason to want to go back to the future (yeah, I couldn’t help it).
As for Jamie, well he is young and idealistic, gallant, vulnerable, self-deprecating, hot headed, handsome and exceptionally virile. Despite clearly being the man of Gabaldon’s fantasies, Jamie is also a very well written character and he is probably the first male character in a (contemporary) romance for whom I can understand all the fuss. Truthfully, it is nice to get a break from the bad boy love interest because Jamie is, very simply, a good person with a good heart, he is brave but he doesn’t take pleasure in killing and he is endearingly sweet. Yes, I swooned and I loved the romance because Jamie and Claire are just so flawed both alone and together, and in that sense it felt real.
Were there problems? Definitely. I had some major issues with how certain things were portrayed (I am not talking about the attitudes that are expressed by the characters here because I can accept that due to the time period) but I can’t get into it due to the fact that I want to keep this spoiler free. Ultimately though, I enjoyed the book enough that I could simply choose to overlook these things.
Honestly, reading this book felt like sitting in front of a roaring fire on a gloomy afternoon, it was comforting and after I got past the first third (which was a little slow) it took me much less time than I had anticipated to finish all 864 pages. The only unfortunate thing now is that I have been sucked in enough to want to continue with this sprawling series.