Review: Outlander

If you haven’t heard, Outlander is both a series of books by Diana Gabaldon and the new Starz television craze. I started watching it around the time the second episode aired and was instantly hooked. Of course, being the reader that I am, I also immediately felt bad that I hadn’t read the book yet. So after the show started its mid-season break a few weeks ago, I went back and read that, too. Now I’m all caught up and I have to say, I love them both.

The story takes place in Scotland, one of my favorite places in the world. The main character, Claire, is on a second honeymoon with her husband just after the end of World War II. But while the story starts out in 1945, it doesn’t stay there for long. Claire falls through time and finds herself two hundred years in the past, around the time of the Jacobite uprising. She’s alone, she’s a woman, and she’s English to boot. Good luck, Claire! The book and the TV show follow Claire as she fights for survival, armed with only her skills as an army field nurse, some knowledge of Scottish history, and the sheer force of her own determination. Will she make it back home to her own time or will she get caught up in the past?

Visually, the show is fantastic. Both the stunning natural landscape of the Scottish highlands and the brilliance of the sets contribute to the overall appeal and you can see the skill of the costume designers in all the little details put into everyone’s attire. The actors too are also something to marvel at. They have great chemistry with one another and really own their characters’ personalities, no matter their fault or flaws.

The book is a little different. Episodes one through eight of the show only covered about half of the book, so much of what I know about the overall plot isn’t something that I can apply to my thoughts on the show just yet. I’ll have to wait until April when the rest of the season airs. However, I will say this: the adaptation is pretty spot on so far and I expect that that will continue throughout the rest of the season.

The only things I didn’t like about the book actually appear to be pretty unique to it, and not something that the screenplay writers chose to carry over onto the screen. Let’s talk about those things now.

Firstly, it was a little difficult to get into the book because you’re adjusting to not one, but two different periods of historical fiction. That makes the first crucial chapters slow and dense and more than likely to lose a few readers. However, once you fall into the world the story moves along a bit more quickly. In a sense, you adjust as Claire does to the new surroundings.

I’m also quite glad that the actress playing Claire, Caitriona Balfe, has given her character a little more conviction than her counterpart in the book. Book Claire has a tendency to say something “strong” with all the force of a child stamping her foot. TV show Claire gives the same lines, direct from the book, a little more force. It’s unusual to see such a change, considering that words have no given inflection coming off a page, but in context I think my critique makes a lot of sense.

*SPOILERS TO FOLLOW*

The major thing that concerned me about the book was Jamie’s more sadistic episode. I understood some of it – beating one’s wife was not terribly uncommon given the time period – but I’m glad that the TV show has decided to downplay it nonetheless, especially the part where he admitted that he enjoyed it. It would have been horrible to watch, for one thing, and I thought that, given the majority of his actions in the book, his character didn’t warrant such a cruel kind of quality. It was unnecessary. Sure, I get the idea of adding depth and texture to a character – not everyone can be Mr. Perfect – but it just didn’t suit him. It also wasn’t explored enough in the book to fully matter anyway since it wasn’t ever addressed beyond the two incidents in which the behavior actually occurred. Claire spends about half a minute being mad at him, and then quickly forgives him before moving along with the story. So it’s a bit of a moot point and unnecessary to the plot. I’m glad it was left out.

All in all it was a really good read. I’m glad that I read it and I like having the ability to make the comparison between the TV show and the original work.

Have you read Outlander? Are you watching the show? Let me know what you think of them in the comments below!

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4 thoughts on “Review: Outlander

  1. We are loving Outlander Starz too! We actually read the Outlander series long ago and the reread in prep for the series. I’m not sure but the Jamie sadistic episode may be coming in the second half of this season. But we’ll find out how in April.

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