Ok, I just finished reading the first Outlander novel. I haven’t read any others, nor have I seen the tv series, although it’s on my Netflix queue. But....I am a little less than impressed with this book, either as historical fiction or as romance.

And I usually LOVE historical fiction! I’ve read all of Sharon Kay Penman’s novels about the Plantagenets, plus that Richard III novel, plus other novels about Wars of the Roses-era England ca. 1400, plus fiction set in early colonial America. So I figured I’d really enjoy this series set in 18th century Scotland that seems to be zeroing in on the battle of Culloden as a major event. Really, I normally love obscure historical events like these. I love getting a realistic sense of the culture, sexual and gender expectations, religious sensibilities, and so on.

I think most of my problem with it is that Claire and Jamie aren’t that interesting as characters. They’re supposed to be products of their time, and Jamie is supposed to be a figure of significance in the Highlands. But imo, he came across as more of an angsty romance novel character - persecuted, conspired against, beaten, raped, and everything else - all to show his nobility of character. And Claire is presumably an outspoken WWII-era nurse transported back to the 1700s, except that she doesn’t seem like she’s a 1940s woman, with the prejudices, traumatic experiences, and general sense of instability I might expect from a wartime nurse who’d lived through 1930s-40s Britain. She comes across more as a 1990s “outspoken+bossy=personality” woman. And I don’t think that it’s that I expect 21st century values superimposed on the story. I expect some difficulties with things like Jamie’s beating of Claire - I’m aware that marriage often equaled woman as property in a different century and context, and the darker ramifications of that.

But I do expect do be drawn in by the characters and to care about them, and to feel like the unsavory parts of the story are realistic. Yes, I’m still a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire in spite of certain repulsive aspects of the storyline and the meandering last two books, so I don’t think it’s simply that I’m turned off by shitty fictional characters. I just want them to be compelling, and I don’t think Diana Gabaldon made up her mind about whether she was writing historical fiction or a romance novel. No, I don’t really care for Frank either. I’m supposed to, because he’s a genealogy fanatic and scholar and those guys are usually my type, but he seemed too pleased with himself. Claire described him as “urbane” and “polished” and I had a horrible flashback to a few narcissists I’ve known.

Things I did like:

Dougal and Colum Mackenzie. It was a good reminder that having blood relatives can still mean political conspiracies against you, and that your life is worth pretty much nothing if the circumstances are right. It was an excellent juxtaposition to the idea of “family=sentimentality and security” that we think about closer to the present day. I also liked Mrs. Fitzgibbons and Laoghaire - they seemed more realistic characters for this particular story.


Should I bother trying out the tv series, or just wash my hands of the whole thing?