“There are things that I canna tell you, at least not yet. And I’ll ask nothing of ye that ye canna give me. But what I would ask of ye—when you do tell me something, let it be the truth. And I’ll promise ye the same. We have nothing now between us, save—respect, perhaps. And I think that respect has maybe room for secrets, but not for lies. Do ye agree?”
Outlander is the popular story of Claire Beauchamp. She is woman on holiday in Scotland with her husband Frank in 1945. While there, she inadvertently touches some magical standing stones that transport her 200 years in the past, where she must navigate the Scottish Highlands during the Jacobite Rebellion. With the help of the MacKenzie clan and one James Fraser, hot Scot extraordinaire. This book review is an interesting one for me, because it is one of the few stories I have read, after watching the show/movie adaptation. This leaves me no choice, really, but to compare the two different executions and review them as a whole. Not to mention, that this is a story beloved by many and has a huge fan base. Fair warning, this one might be a little long!
First, I have to say that there are things that I love about this story and things that I dislike, both in the show and in the book. However, I do think the show is better, overall. I know! Blasphemy! But, it is true in this case. The show is more concise, the dialogue in many cases is cleaner and more effective, and the added bonus of seeing the scenery (and Sam Heughan) and hearing the accents just make the television series a more enjoyable experience. I have only seen the first season of the show, but I wanted to pause to read the book before starting season two. So, I really only picked up the book because of the show, and I went into it with some pretty high expectations.
Unfortunately, I was pretty darn disappointed 😣. Even being a fan of the show, there are still aspects of it that I do not enjoy or that I would change, but I have found it worth continuing. With the book, there was hardly anything that made me want to continue! It was honestly hard to get through, and not just because it’s a whopping 850 pages. I found the writing very superficial and simple. The characterization was shallow. The historical content was lacking. The plot was basically non-existent halfway through the book. And the subject matter was extremely off-putting at times. I see now that much of what I was not happy with in the show was actually way worse originally! I will try to expand on some of my grievances in more detail.
Okay, the main issue I have with the book (and the show) is that I can’t stand Claire. There I said it! 🤷 She is a terrible character and is very unlikable. In the show, she is annoying and bland, and extremely ignorant, despite how smart she thinks she is. Also, and I mean no offense, but I am not a fan of the actress that plays her, Caitriona Balfe. Something about her just takes me away from the story and she seems so much older than Jamie, that their romance comes across as almost creepy sometimes! Book Claire was even worse. She is supposedly this strong, independent, capable, 26 year old woman who was an active combat nurse in WWII. This is someone I would expect to be smart and resilient, humbled by what they have seen, resourceful and take-charge, and badass. Claire was none of these things. We were told that she was smart and sassy and able to take control (not to mention desirable to every man around her 🙄), but all she ever did was argue, nag, order people around, make poor decisions, feel sorry for herself, and put herself and others in constant danger. She was honestly so dumb sometimes! She took like .5 seconds to apparently adapt completely to life 200 years in the past and then was constantly bringing attention to herself by running her mouth or using anachronistic curses or hanging out with known witches. You would think someone who survived WWII would have a little bit more sense. She acted like a child when she did not get her way and always spouted nonsense about being independent, but then needed to get rescued a billion times throughout the book. Ugh! She annoys me.
Another thing about Claire that just completely disrupted the story for me was how nonexistent her voice was. She was so passive, despite being our first-person narrator! I never got an actual sense of her emotions or her desires. It felt like she was just describing situations to the reader and not actually experiencing them. She never did anything herself; she just had stuff happen to her and there was zero sense of urgency. It was very bland and disconnecting to read. I think this was also in part due to Gabaldon’s lack of writing skills. The entire book felt a bit amateurish and episodic. Some of the writing was beautiful, but not much of it. There was no real plot when you got past the surface tensions to force Jamie and Claire together. It just became a series of endless, meandering scenes strung together with sex. It was WAY too long. It could have been edited down to about half of what it was or split into two books right away, with the amount of pages we were given. Perhaps if it was split in two and each part was given the proper attention to develop, it would not have felt so rushed and superficial. Too much was focused on Jamie and Claire having sex, and not enough page time was taken to focus on the world, political atmosphere, or character development. I know that sounds like I am expecting too much from just a romance and maybe I was, but I thought from the show and the length of the book, that it was more than that.
The relationship between Jamie and Claire was okay. I can see why people get swooney over Jamie. I do. Especially because I saw Heughan portray him in the show, prior to reading about him in the book, and he is quite attractive. (He also has an uncanny resemblance to a guy I was sort of dating at the time, which was fun then, but pisses me off now because that guy turned out to be a huge asshole! Life lesson, kids: things don’t always turn out the way you want them to. And guys are jerks.) Anyway! 😂 Yes, Jamie is hot, kind, heroic, romantic, and his accent is the definition of “panty-dropper,” but again, he was slightly improved upon in the show. Book Jamie comes across as somewhat more naive, immature, and at times asshole-ish. He was a total dick to his sister in the books. In the show, they softened it. He was also very out of character during the scene that many people find to be the most offensive and horrible in the book, when Jamie beats Claire with his belt for running away from the group and getting captured. It really is an off-putting scene. Not only does Jamie supposedly beat Claire “half to death,” but he says he enjoys it and she should be grateful he didn’t force himself on her afterward. Claire is angry of course, but then forgives him a day later, when he says it was for her own good. That is wildly different from the Jamie of the book up to that point and it makes no sense for his character to go through those changes. I do think this is again an example of Gabaldon’s shortcomings as a writer. I think she was trying to be cheeky and showcase Jamie’s “sexy, BDSM tenancies” to the audience and Claire, but exaggerated it too much. It just seemed abusive. Jamie was just not consistent once he and Claire actually got together, and that was frustrating.
As for the actual romance…I found it mediocre. Both in the book and the show, I felt like there was something missing. There was great potential (which is how I felt about the whole book), but it never reached that level for me. I know some people adore Jamie and Claire’s love story. I have heard words like “soulmates” and “fate” tossed around. But it was lacking something and was not great. For one, Claire is so wishy-washy with her feelings toward the husband she left behind in 1945, that her “love” for Jamie just reads like lust for the most part. All of the romance and heartfelt emotion comes from Jamie (when he is not hitting her) and Claire once again has no voice. Where it should have been intense and raw and universe-altering, it was just flat. Also, the whole “Jamie is a virgin that learned about sex from watching horses, yet is somehow fantastic in bed” was totally unrealistic. And kind of creepy. I did not like the older woman, sex teacher vibe Claire was giving off there. Basically, Claire just wanted to bone Jamie until she suddenly realized she was madly in love with him and Jamie suffered from insta-love. Not to mention the convenient forced marriage that had to be consummated. For safety. I will say, though, that I loved how Jamie affectionately referred to Claire as Sassenach. Nicknames are always cute 😍! Oh and all the sex scenes? Not even good! There was a definite “fade to black” habit, which was fine, it didn’t have to be graphic or anything, but the author chose to only make the violent sex graphic, which was odd.
So, I know I have already written a lot (and complained a lot), but there is one more thing I have to touch on: the ending of the book where Jamie got tortured and raped by Black Jack Randall for no apparent reason. Randall, who is Claire’s husband’s ancestor that happens to look exactly like Frank, is a caricature of a villain. He has no backstory or depth to justify his sadistic, rapist, violently homoerotic tendencies. All we know is he looks like Frank, he is pure evilllll, and he has a strange sexual obsession with Jamie. And in the end, when Jamie is once again saving Claire’s dumb ass, he barters his own body for her. The resulting torture and rape was graphic, unnecessary, and didn’t really add anything to the story. We already knew that Randall was a bad guy. We knew he was twisted and we knew Jamie would do anything to save Claire. We knew Claire was rash and stupid. So the rape did nothing to further the story and was just there to add more drama. The trauma that Jamie suffered did not get handled well and I do not think that Gabaldon had the skill as a writer to pull it off in a meaningful way. It simply seemed gratuitous and did not give the situation the gravity it deserved. It gave Claire the chance to “save” Jamie by reenacting the rape, but I just found that weird and disrespectful to people actually going through PTSD like Jamie supposedly was.
The entire end of the book did not sit well with me. There was no resolution and I felt like I wasted so much time reading this novel 😠! Good thing Claire is suddenly, miraculously pregnant, because that should fix everything. I gave it two stars instead of one, because of the potential that I saw there, the good parts of Jamie, the brief glimpses we saw of historical Scotland, and the accents. Unlike some people, I actually like when accents are written phonetically in the text, because it brings them to life for me! So, yeah, I do not think I will be continuing with this series. Perhaps I will keep watching the show, but even that seems a little bit unappealing after the season finale.
What are your thoughts on the Jamie and Claire saga?
Thank you and happy reading!