Many moons ago, I started watching Outlander. At some point in the process, I decided that I should read the book
first as well, since it was based on a book, and a quite popular one at that. As of now, I have seen the first season of the show, and haven’t pursued it in ages – I don’t know if I ever will. And as of last weekend, I have finally finished reading the first book in the series. Just like the show, I don’t know if I will continue. Let me explain.
Overall I’m going to address aspects of the story that I found in both the book and the TV Show (first book and first season, since it’s all I’ve read/seen). If there are aspects specific to one or the other, I’ll just mention it!
And before I delve into things, I met Diana Gabaldon at the Paris book fair this year and it was a crazy experience because I still can’t believe I had in front of me this woman who had written so much, and who was so successful. And of course I was so impressed I barely manage to say anything.
Warning: Contains spoilers
Let me start by saying that I absolutely LOVE the concept of this story. I am a huge fan of time-travel, and it’s usually a genre that always works for me whether in books or TV Shows. And that aspect of the story really did work for me. I’m also a huge fan of both Scotland in general, and its history in particular, so again, I really liked that aspect of the story. I also think it’s rather well-written, and I really like the narration.
I personally listened to the audiobook for the most part, and it was narrated by Davina Porter who is an absolutely brilliant narrator, so that definitely added something to the story. I discovered her when I listened to The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, and now I simply want to have all my audiobooks narrated by her. She really brings something to the characters and the plot, it’s like she adds a dash of her personal magic and I LOVE IT.
But anyway, back to the story. For the most part, I felt like the characters were likeable. We feel bad for Frank, even if we don’t see him that much. We are scared for Claire, we empathy, and maybe we fall in love with Jaimie at the same time she does. She is smart and brave at the same time, and honestly the story would fall apart without her. She is one of the most strong-willed characters I have ever seen, and some part of me definitely wants to know what happens to her after book 1. But is it worth all the rape and abuse? I think not. And thus I transition to the things I found problematic.
⚠️ SO many TRIGGER WARNINGS for rape and abuse ⚠️
Yes, Jaimie seems very loveable at first,
and very good looking on screen I’m not going to deny that. But there are several occasions, if I remember correctly, where he forces sex on Claire, and I am so not here for it. But that’s not even all. There is, about half-way through the story, this scene I will never forget, where Jaimie decides he needs to punish Claire for… I don’t even remember, but the idea is, if he doesn’t do it, his Scot buddies are going to make fun of him, so not only does he give her a beating – so much so that she can’t even sit down on the next day – but then he tells her that she’s going to enjoy it, like, please stop. What the hell went through your mind while writing this passage, Diana, I’m not sure I even want to know. But one thing I know is that I can’t forgive it. Every time I see/hear someone fangirl over Jaimie I just think of that passage and it stops me right where I am. It just killed the buzz for me.
Now, I know that Jaimie went through a lot. He is also very understanding towards Claire most of the time, like when she talks to him about Frank, and particularly when she explains how she ended up in Scotland in the first place. He barely escaped being executed, almost witnessed his sister’s rape, and saves Claire on countless times. BUT DOES THIS FORGIVE THE FACT THAT HE ABUSED HER? I THINK NOT. And yes I know, this was another time. Fair enough, though the idea of having a historical fiction book that doesn’t feature rape is something I can still fathom thank you very much. Yet, having rape or abuse featured in a book is something that I can handle (see Pillars of the Earth for example, which is one of my favourite books) as long as it is an issue that is discussed and portrayed as a bad thing.
I know that may sound childish but the fact that it was 18th century Scotland doesn’t excuse his actions. What I really can’t forgive is the fact that this whole rape + beating thing is completely brushed over and romanticized. Just because Jaimie is a pretty face. Maybe Frank was boring, but at least he didn’t beat up his wife when she did something he disapproved of.
And behold, I’m not even done with the problematic stuff, because as you may or may not have noticed, I haven’t even mentioned Captain Randall yet. Some may say he is a villain you love to hate… That’s absolutely not the case for me, but, you know, feel free to like him if you do. It’s not even that I don’t like him (though I really don’t). That is not even the thing I hate the most about it, what really struck me is how dirty he was done. Hey, let’s write a villain for Outlander. First, he will have the face of Claire’s husband and be his ancestor. That is totally awesome in terms of the plot I have to say. But ooh… Claire met her husband’s ancestor! And he tried to rape her! I was already out at that point, but this was only the beginning. Not only is this something that comes up at several points in the story – oh we need a plot twist, let’s have Randall have to rape Claire, portray it as a total damsel in distress scene and have Jaimie rescue her at the risk of his own life – but then we have the great (almost) finale of the book where PLOT TWIST Randall wants to have sex with Jaimie. And not only does he physically abuse and torture him, he then blackmails him to have sex without resisting, and all in the meantime talks about his wife whom he also attempted to rape, and then he also cuts him, brands him with his personal seal, tells him he loves him and tries to have him say it back?
I need to stop talking about this, because it’s getting me too worked up. But in case you didn’t get my point it was: why did you make such a horrible character and have to make him queer? That was pointless, and not the representation I’m here for.
So anyway, aside from these few points that definitely disturned me to say the least, I have to say that Outlander as a fascinating world build-up that combines time-traveling and strong ladies (Claire obviously, but also Gillie Duncan, Jaimie’s sister who is a total badass, and many of the ladies from castle Leoch), something that I definitely appreciate. And I can’t deny the fact that I am totally in awe at Diana Gabaldon for writing such a big chunky book with a restless plot, but for then taking it to the next level with many sequels. And I will probably never read those sequels, but I can’t help but wonder, and there’s no denying the fact that I am amazed by this universe.