Book Review: Outlander (Book #1)

This review applies to the audio book narrated by Davina Porter.

 

Going into this…

This review applies to the audio book narrated by Davina Porter and compares the book to the movie.

 

Why do we look to book reviews? Are we looking to learn more about the book prior to purchase, or is the book review only a reflection of the reviewer’s experience? Perhaps we’re seeking both. Technically, when you find a reviewer you admire and follow, it is because you value that reviewer’s experience, which very much mirrors your own. Therefore, a particular reviewer’s experience is really what a reader seeks.

 

I feel inclined to state this when it comes to the Outlander Series because, in reading Outlander, I found me.

Before Outlander, I was not able to bring myself to watch Outlander or any modern day TV series with sexual content and/or nudity of any kind. In short, I have been raped much like the characters in this book. I have been enslaved, trafficked, beaten, neglected, and abused. I have had marital affairs, used my body for currency, and have lost myself in mental illness. I have lived my life with my love who I lost for ten years and found again. There is very, very little that Claire and James lived through that I and my love too have not lived through.

I have a Frank. I have a Jamie. I have my own Brianna. *scoffs* I even have my own Randall. When reading this series, I evaluated each circumstance as if with a check point. Under many circumstances, I was able to nod my head and say, “Yep! That is what it feels like. She got that right.”

 

I picked up this book because I was tired of being excluded from the cycle of stories that is passing through our pop culture. In listening to the audio books, I found a way to emerge myself in the story without subjecting myself to visual images I couldn’t watch. Outlander changed all that.

Half way through the novel, I began watching the series. These reviews reflect my evaluation of both book and movie.

To the point…

(No spoilers)

If you are looking for a hot-steamy romance, go look somewhere else. After reading three books and watching the series I can honestly say this not a romance novel. Outlander is a love story much more real and down to earth than Buttercup and Wesley. Outlander is an alternate Historical Fiction novel centered on the lives of these two people. Claire and James may be star-crossed. That has yet to be seen. Their love is deep, beautiful, pure, imperfect, and so very very real. There are happy endings, sometimes. But their happy endings never last. There are cliff hangers. Get used to it. The writing is impeccable. The author uses words like “imbroglio” and “lugubrious,” and writes with the beauty and flow of Tolkien.

If you hate history, this is not the book for you. If you hate people getting hurt, go find something else to read. If you are expecting a romance novel, you’re in the wrong place. If you are looking for something different that explores all kinds of love and hate, and explores them it does—then this is the book for you.

This is written in the first person point of view and is easily 12th grade reading level. It is patiently written and takes it time getting to reveals, conclusions, and plot twists without dragging. This book requires patient readers. If you want the resolution fast, go find something else to read.

This is my newest favorite book. It took my breath away, gave it back, and swiftly stole it again. Most importantly, it challenged my own beliefs and left me uncertain of so many things, my own beliefs, perspective, and opinion of marriage, unity, and love. Outlander taught me that marriage can and often is imperfect. That the downs of a marriage doesn’t mean the love or the marriage is ruined.

For me, it really explored the relationship and meaning of husband, wife, trust, loyalty, and marriage. Jamie has the ability to successfully put into words what every man tries to say.

“Claire. You’re tearing my heart out.”

“I have already forgiven you for everything you could ever do wrong.”

I believe, whole-heartedly that every man has, at some time needed to say these words. And if he hasn’t, he’s with the wrong woman.

Likewise, Claire’s

“No matter the time period, every woman overall either loves men or they hates men. Whichever side she stands on reflects her behavior toward them.” I am proud to say I love men.

Half way through the novel, I began watching the series. These reviews reflect my evaluation of both book and movie.

The Audiobook…

Davina Porter is astounding. Her ability to transfer between voices and accents is impeccable. When my BFF heard a passage she asked how many actors had been used for the recording. “Just one,” I said. When buying the other audiobooks of the series, I was certain to purchase only her narratives.

***SPOILERS***

The Story

Part One

The story starts slow, if you’re not interested in Scottish history, but doesn’t leave you there for long. I spent a lot of time thinking, “Hm. Will this be coming up later?” The answer is, yes. Everything proves relevant in Outlander. Every name, every date, every number, every place. The webbing is astounding!

Claire is a British nurse fresh out of WWII. She was on the front lines, getting her hands dirty and knitting men back together while her husband, Frank, had a clean desk job in Intelligence. Before the war started, Claire and Frank had only been married for six months. War changes people. I believe this truly is one of the main points in the series and is frequently revisited in books 2 and 3. War does change people, and readers get to see just how many ways it can change us.

In an attempt to “rekindle the romance” and see if “two people can still be married,” Frank and Claire return to Inverness, Scotland for a second honeymoon. Here is where the story starts.

While in Scotland, Frank embraces his love of history and spends much of his time with an old friend tracking his ancestry back six generations to his 6th time great grandfather Jonathon Randall who was stationed in Inverness. In both book and movie, I felt Claire was just patiently tagging along, somewhat fascinated with Frank’s hobbies. In the book, they spend more time alone with each other. In the movie, they see the sites. In the book, she is uncertain of who she is. She feels like she doesn’t really belong and isn’t sure if she and Frank should stay together. In the movie, Claire throws her heart and soul into Frank. The Claire in the book is modest and conservative. In the movie, she’s bold and tends to engage Frank.

Chapter one comes to an end when, on Samhain, Claire returns alone to a collection of ancient Druid standing stones called Craig Na Dun. She places her palm to the center stone and is whisked back from 1945 to 1743.

The series follows Claire and the events that braid her time line into the time line of an 18th century highlander, Jamie Fraser. Almost immediately, she meets Jonathan Randall who tries to rape her. In the book, he gets a lot further into the rape. Highland Scotsmen rescue and capture Claire who wakes to find a group of men hiding from the British and one of them, Jamie, is wounded. Instantly, Claire’s nursing is needed. The bold and stubborn 23-year-old can’t seem to stay out of trouble especially where people are concerned. True of a traditional romance novel, the two are partnered together while Jamie spends the next few chapters collecting wounds. Yes. Collecting. Jamie Fraser collects wounds. In every book. In the book, Claire is gentle, urgent, silent, and scared. In the movie she’s firm, bossy (she has to be), and bold. As a reader and a viewer, I had the pleasure of seeing the movie as only a deeper extension of Claire (and Jamie). I love both sides of Claire (and Jamie).

By the time Claire gets to Castle Leoch, Jamie has acquired three wounds. In the book, she’s welcomed as a guest, though, they don’t trust her. At first she feels useless and spends her days wandering the grounds. Unlike the movie, Claire is free to move about. Slowly, she is welcomed into Castle Leoch, but is still kept at an arm’s length. Welcomed, but an outlander, nevertheless. She is given a surgery where she almost at once starts receiving patients, and has no idea how to get back to Craig Na Dun, although she makes some valiant attempts, one of which drags Jamie into her situation where he is, once again, injured.

In the movie, Claire is a guest so long as she doesn’t try to escape. She is watched by Angus and Rupert. Angus is not in the book. I love Angus who is easily one of my favorite movie characters.

Claire fixes her attention to one goal: to get back to Craig Na Dun. When an opportunity to leave Castle Leoch arrives, Claire accompanies the caravan of highlanders, whose purpose is to collect rent from the land tenants. Jamie accompanies them on this journey. Along the way, Claire escapes and is soon captured by the British who takes Claire to Randall. Alone. Claire is interrogated, not so kindly, by Randall, but is stopped by Dougal McKenzie. As Dougal carries Claire out, Randall demands she is to return in three days’ time to formally continue the interrogation. As Claire is English, Dougal has no choice, but to return Claire to Dougal. Unless…

Dougal McKenzie confronts Claire much as he did in the movie. In fact, the scene in the movie and the book are almost identical as is 90% of the dialogue that does not contain Dougal in the scene. Claire drinks from the “Liar’s Pool” and repeats her confession, “I am not a spy. I am just Claire.” Dougal, believing in the power of the Liar’s Pool, believes her, and Claire has won Dougal over. Dougal explains that, so long as Claire is English, she must return to Randall and be subjected to his “interrogation.” But, if she were Scottish…

Claire asks how she could be made Scottish, and Dougal says she will have to marry a Scott. Now. Before the third day. Her choices are Rupert or Jamie. Having already developed a friendship with Jamie, and believing Jamie would return her, eventually, to Craig Na Dun should she ask, Claire agrees to marry Jamie. Here, the heart of the story enfolds.

The story toggles between Claire who in her attempts to get back to Craig Na Dun, repeatedly finds herself in fatal danger as she adjusts to life in the 18th century, and Jamie who, most of the time, comes to her rescue while learning how to be a husband to an independent 20th century woman who refuses to follow the simplest of directions. Jamie is often wounded, and Claire often fixes Jamie. The exchange does not drag on, nor does it become predictable. Other characters come to save Claire. Claire legitimately has no clue just how dangerous this time period is. For this reason, she truly makes some stupid choices with severe consequences.

The book reviews woman’s rights and the wife’s role because it’s simply part of the story without making the story about these hot political topics. The movie isn’t about chauvinism. It’s about safety. Women were uneducated at this time. They did (sometimes) have the maturity and/or intellect of a child. Men were educated and had to handle women much like they handled children. This isn’t chauvinism. It’s safety. When one has a body guard, one does not run off without informing the body guard. A body guard can not protect if he is not informed. Making an independent choice was a death sentence back then when laws held little weight in many places.

Part Two

I remember the moment when Claire returns to Jamie following the witch trials and her decision to stay while at Craig Na Dun. I thought, “The story ends here. Just turn it off and walk away. Be happy with only this and take their happy ever after now.” Part of me still wishes I had. The story following this moment changes. It stops being a romance and the honeymoon, as they say, is over. There are elements and characters that are shifted, added, and removed. The pursuit to find Jamie after his capture is long and arduous.

The rape

In short, Jamie’s rape by Randall was far worse in the book.

To quote a line from book #2…

“He made me his whore. He forced me to my knees and made me suck my own blood from his cock.”

The rape scene fills two pages. It’s graphic, brutal, and far worse than the movie.

Jamie doesn’t return to Claire at the end completely shut off. He’s in shock and, as the days turn to weeks, depression sets in, and Jamie withdraws.

You must understand…Jamie wasn’t traumatized by Randall “making love to him” as explained in the movie. Jamie was traumatized because he was forced to be there. He was forced to think.

When we are threatened we run, or we fight to run. But if we can’t run, we dissociate. We use our minds to imagine we are someone else, somewhere else, somewhere safe. If the trauma continues, the dissociation becomes permanent and continues long after the trauma stops. Once the trauma ends, the victim can’t tell the difference between the world they’ve created and this world. This is Dissociative Disorder. If the dissociation isn’t enough, the victim begins to split their psyche into segments, finding ways to safely lock up the vulnerable parts of themselves and now, you have multiple personalities emerge. This is personality disorders. My traumas took me as far as Dissociative Disorder and borderline personality disorder. I had five people who I spoke to. Only one had t become “me,” but she hadn’t surfaced for others to see.

Jamie…poor Jamie…wasn’t allowed to dissociate. Every time he started to dissociate, Randall would torture him and bring him back. Once he was certain Jamie was himself back in that fucking room—I too had a fucking room—then Randall would continue to rape Jamie. Jamie would slip back into dissociation, and Randall would stop to torture him, keeping him in the present. In the book, Randall raped then tortured, raped then tortured, raped then tortured for two days. Jamie was lashed from nape of the neck to the backs of his ankles. He was branded in several places. This is why Jamie was fucked up. He couldn’t dissociate to mentally escape the hell he was put through.

 

I have spent the last three years in therapy addressing the same experience Jamie had. The healing process that Jamie goes through, the shock, dissociation, the nightmares…Kudos to the author. This is what rape feels like. It’s what it looks like on the inside and the outside. Let me get something straight to every woman/man out there who fantasizes about rape and puts a romantic twist to it. Jamie’s rape finally shows what rape really looks like. It shows you what it feels like and how it rapes the body, the mind, and the soul. “I deserve to die.” I’m dirty. Don’t touch me or you’ll get dirty too. Rape victims…survivors, walk away feeling like they’ve contracted a disease. Its highly contagious, and they are the carrier of this fatal disease. I cried because Jamie was in my head. I was reading…listening to lines that I have spoken several times over the last three years. On occasion, I still say them. To have my own words spoken back to me…Jamie was in my head. I’ll be blunt. It bonded me. At this moment, I loved him because I was seeing me. And just like that, I wasn’t alone. Someone knew. They understood. They were a condemned prisoner barely living alongside me.

This concept, that my own words were being spoken back to me, that someone else has suffered as I, is only the first of many that I would later find in Outlander.

Loved Elements…

1 – I am a Whovian. I had very little idea what Outlander was about when walking into this. I knew Jamie was named for my favorite Doctor Who companion: Jamie McCrimmon portrayed by Frazer Hines. Do you see it? Jamie. Frazer. In Doctor Who, the Doctor finds the highlander Jamie on a battlefield immediately following the Battle of Culloden. In short, the only highland survivor of the Battle of Culloden survived because the Doctor showed up and took Jamie away in the TARDIS. Outlander takes a different approach. Ironically, both bring time travel into the life of a man named Jamie, the lone survivor of the Battle of Culloden.

I know Jamie McCrimmon. And I know, Jamie Frazer. And I can tell you, despite McCrimmon not getting hurt at all…sometimes, the two men are very much alike. Too much alike. Both are stubborn, pigheaded, hotheaded, and look fecking sexy in a kilt. The author did openly confess she based Jamie Fraser on Jamie McCrimmon. I’ve had people ask me, “Are the alike.” Hell. Yes. Very much so.

 

2 – Claire’s wedding ring in the book. The ring itself and its origin were completely different in the book. I was not fond of how it was handled in the movie. Simply put, in the book, they forgot about the ring and Jamie had to improvise. He slid his signet ring onto her finger for the ceremony only. Upon returning to Castle Leoch, Jamie demands his share of the rent. “Now that I’m married, I am entitled to 25% of the rent collected. I need it now.” Without argument or hesitation, Collum gives Jamie his share of the rent and, not stopping to say goodbye to Claire, Jamie turns and leaves, vanishing into the night. True to any woman not certain of her husband’s character, Claire’s imagination runs wild until, upon Jamie’s return, she explodes on him accusing him of whoring and drinking, of marrying her only as a means to obtain his share of the rent. She slaps the confused mass that is Jamie who then produces a wedding ring.

“I needed the money right away to buy you a proper ring. That is what I was doing, Sassenach.”

The ring is beautiful. Scottish thistles and vines encircle this ring into waves of Celtic knots. This ring, combined with an element from Book #3 that does not appear in the movie, was stunning.

 

3 – I did not like Jamie Fraser right away. I loved Claire and sympathized with her all the while viewing Jamie exactly as she saw Jamie. I knew they would end up together, but I (and Claire) just didn’t warm up to him as quickly as I had expected.

Jamie is far from perfect. He’s incapable of staying out of trouble, spends most of his time dying, getting wounded, and/or being nursed by Claire. He beats his wife (once) and just doesn’t know when to shut his mouth. He’s also a 23 year old outlaw orphan on the run who has almost no one to turn to for womanly advice. He’s very much on his own.

Honestly, Jamie reminds me a lot of Princess Bride’s Wesley. A farm boy. Poor and perfect with eyes like the sea after a storm. Only, Jamie isn’t suave or genteel. He is handsome, and doesn’t care. He’s libido is insane, but only because of Claire. He’s stubborn, passionate, hotheaded, stubborn, loyal, pigheaded, and stubborn.

4 – Murtagh. I love this man.

5 – Every word spoken is 100% identical to the book. If the scene appears in the book as it did in the movie, the dialogue was pulled 100% from the book. There are places were sentences are cut short, but the words are all there.

Hated Elements…

1 – Dougal MacKenzie. Let’s get something straight. Dougal was one of my favorite characters in the book. He was sweet, loyal, and honorable. Every scene where Dougal plays the antagonist was made up for the movie. Every scene where Dougal played the hero…that was the Dougal in the book. Dougal cradling his friend when he dies during the boar hunt, Dougal rescuing Claire from Randall, Dougal rescuing Claire from the rapists in the alcove, Dougal arranging Claire’s marriage to protect her from Randall, this is the Dougal you see in the book. Dougal is loyal first and foremost to his brother, putting Collum far above his love for Scotland.

In the book, Dougal, when drunk, only kisses Claire in the alcove after he saves her from the rapists. She does slap him and when he says, “leave before the cost in saving you increases,” he is referring to rape. In the movie, he attempts to rapes her, and Claire fights him off. The line, “leave before the cost in saving you increases,” is then referred to as killing her.

Dougal is not violent over the death of his wife. Of his own volition, Dougal returns to his home to formally grieve and bury his wife as a gentlemen and loving husband. He is not exiled. He is not punished. He is not hated or resented by his brother.

2 – Laoghaire (Pronounced Leery). They could not have exaggerated a character more in the book had they invented and added one for conflict. In the book, Laoghaire and Jamie kiss in the alcove. She is dumped by Jamie in the hallway who was too busy to do more than that as he was running off to the blacksmith to purchase Claire’s wedding ring. Laoghaire does put an ill-wish under Claire’s bed. Laoghaire does lure Claire to Gellis’ cottage when they are arrested for witchcraft.

We never actually see Laoghaire in any of these scenes save for the one when Jamie kisses her in the corridor. She is just a name that floats around the story. After the witch trial, she is never heard from again.

3 – Jenny Fraser. I loathe Jenny in the movie. They could not have cast the character more wrong. Jenny is as soft and kind as Claire, and only kicks up her skirts when Jamie, again, doesn’t shut his stubborn mouth. I couldn’t, and can’t, stand Jenny in the movie, which could not have portrayed her more wrong. For her character alone, you should read this book to correct how much the movie got this wrong. If I had to cast Jenny Fraser, I would have chosen Emmy Rossum to play the role for her voice, disposition, looks, and build. That is how far off the character was from the book.

4 – Randall. I just hate him and felt he needed to be on this list.

5 – Jamie Fraser’s characteristics. After he returns to Lallybrook, in the movie, Jamie becomes…I don’t know. He’s not an asshole…He’s a jackass! In the book, he doesn’t lose his head. He takes on the role of Laird and sinks properly into the role which suits him like a well-fitted kilt.

How does the book compare to the movie?

The intimacy between Claire and Jamie before their wedding does not exist in the book. In fact, you see and know very little of Jamie Fraser before the wedding. You come to learn Jamie as Claire does. There is no sexual tension between them…until they are married. After their first night, Jamie becomes openly infatuated with his wife. Claire’s love for Jamie is accompanied with a deep seeded guilt over Frank. Regardless, she quickly and unknowingly even to herself, becomes attached to Jamie until that moment when Jamie does take her back to Craig Na Dun and bids her farewell. Only then does she realize just how much she loves and needs Jamie.

The most amorous scenes between Claire and Jamie are so much better in the book. They are more detailed, deeper, and more intimate than the movie. The movie rushes the scenes or alters them completely in some cases. The scene when Jamie leaves Claire at the standing stones, the night before the wedding, the ceremony itself all have so much more depth and hidden treasures secreted in the book.

For instance, the church where Claire marries Jamie is the same church she married Frank (only it was in ruins when she married Frank). Claire was not okay with this and asked, very adamantly to be married somewhere else.

***END OF SPOILERS***

In conclusion

Everyone always argues “the book is better.” But in this case, the book isn’t better. Instead the book, well, the movie, adds to the scope of their relationship and the story. I not only recommend reading this book, I recommend reading and watching the series, simultaneously, if possible. Jamie and Claire could not have been better cast for the movie and their performance only enhances the characters I have grown to love in the book.

I can not get enough of these two. I want them to win together, to lose together, to die together. They must be together and damn all else in the world. They have made a voyeur out of me as I love watching these two find new and old ways to love each other. They have taught me so much about my own marriage. I love them and their love, their story truly has made this world a better place.

But it’s not a love story/romance novel, I swear.

 

About the Author: Angela

%d bloggers like this: