Series/Book Review: Outlander

OutlanderOne of my closest girlfriends has talked about this Outlander series of books for years.  She described it to me, and I kind of thought ‘sounds like a smutty romance novel’, and didn’t make much effort to read it.  I know, I’m a bad friend 😦

Recently the TV series came out, and when I went out for dinner with my friend, she went on and on at length about how good it is, even with some of the story changes.  I thought ‘great, I don’t have to read the book I can just watch the series :)’.  So on a rainy weekend day, I settle in with a cup of tea to watch an episode.  Seven episodes later, I ran out of episodes to watch, and bought the book for my ereader.  By that evening, I had caught up on the series, and read past.

Because I did this all in one day, I have a unique perspective of having both the book and the series fresh in my mind.  Let’s start with the series, as that’s where I started.

It’s a neat idea.  A woman time travels to the past, can’t get back, and is thrown into the rugged world of the Scottish Highlands.  As this is a STARZ series, there’s no bars held back for sex and violence, and the gore of flesh wounds.  Once or twice I found myself squeamish with all the blood.  But I was hooked.  The main character Claire is a sassy, strong willed woman who knows when to fight and when to keep her mouth shut.  This is an important distinction.  I like a strong willed woman, but someone too stubborn to know when she’s putting her foot in her mouth is annoying.  A strong woman would assess the situation and make sure she’s not just belligerently arguing like a child.  While her goal is always to get back to the stone that transported her to the past in order to get back home, she finds herself forced to actually live in a world without electricity, running water or appreciation for intelligent women.

Of course there is a love interest, and the brooding and gentle giant of a man Jamie is one rugged Highlander.  But it’s his sweet side, his shyness and uncertainty that make him so likeable.  His wounded past is also well written to draw you into your concern for him, and you’re constantly worried about something hurting him emotionally.  If you like a bit of romance, this series certainly has it.

But the themes also play with some serious moral latitude about cheating, rape and pure evil.  Parts of it our downright gruesome, and I can’t believe the treatment of people.  What was done to Jamie before the story begins makes me shiver in pain, and reading the book, it gets worse!  As a modern woman, I often find it hard to wrap my head around some of the views.  Not just towards women, but towards children, animals, other people and anyone from somewhere foreign.

The TV show has taken certain liberties.  For the most part they’re minor.  One character telling a story instead of the other.  Two scenes happening together instead of separately.  As a person who understand what it takes to tell a story with film, I can understand almost every decision they made in that regard.  But there are a few things that the show has done that I can’t say came from the book.  One is the two bothers who rule the land.  In the book, both of them are strong, weary of Claire and completely focused on what needs to be done.  In the show, they’re mean to her, sometimes terrifying, and some of the emotions have been seriously exaggerated.  In the book, Dougal is gruff, but almost kind, and once she’s part of their group he’s almost fiercely protective.  He goes out of his way to keep her safe, get her out of danger, and tease her when she’s done something wrong.  He has feelings for her, but for the most part, it’s subtle hurt looks and turning away.  In the show, he all but wants to rape her.  Their scenes together are tense, sometimes frightening, and often leave you wondering if he’s a good guy or bad guy.

Now I’m not saying this exaggeration of character is a bad thing.  In fact, it makes for some damn fine compelling television.

But there is one thing that I have a hard time with, and it’s at no fault of the filmmakers.  The book is written in first person in Claire’s point of view.  Whenever I read a book written in first person, I inevitably put myself in the role.  It’s the use of ‘I’ so often.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this.  It just feels like you.  But the TV show doesn’t make you feel like Claire. I would say this is obviously because they want male viewers as well, and can’t make us all feel like strong willed girls.  It unfortunately makes parts of the story disjointed because we don’t always take Claire’s point of view, but we never see a scene without her.  She’s almost always in the room, because its her story, and the camera is focused on her.  But what about the others?  What about Jamie?  What is he feeling or doing if we don’t seem him for 40 minutes?  He’s the love interest after all, I want to know what her actions do to him.  I don’t have this same desire in the book, but in the show, I find that I miss his presence whenever he’s not there and I wonder what he’s doing.

There’s also the morality of cheating that is an underlying theme in this series.  Technically, Claire is married.  Her future self is married to Frank, a gentle, intelligent man a little emotionally injured by the war.  We have no reason to hate Frank, other than he’s not overly exciting.  Now that Claire’s in the past, technically she can’t be married, because her husband hasn’t even been born yet.  In an argument of the time paradox, Claire is married.  If she manages to get back to the future, she’ll still have cheated on her husband.  As it’s her story, the way time moves around her is irrelevant.  Frank exists to her, he’s her husband, and the love story she shares with Jamie is wrought with infidelity.  The TV series shows her struggle with this a little more than the book does.  In the book, she accepts it pretty easily, with a little stomp of her feet to show she’s angry about it.  In the show, she spends a lot of time worrying, thinking, her inner monologue torn.  I would say for this dilemma, the TV show did a much better job than the book.  I can believe that the Claire of the TV show struggles with it, and ultimately chooses that keeping herself safe will ensure her getting home one day.

Jamie is also a bit different in the show.  I’m not sure if it’s just because of the acting, but the Jamie in the book is not all together experience, but he’s confident and strong.  In the show, he comes across a little… awkward.  Handsome and desirable for sure, but just a little uncomfortable in his own skin.  The odd parts of his history seemed thrown together, and not entirely thought out.  In the book, it’s a little clearer, but I still have some questions.  What’s so unclear is, who knows about his secret? and why is it such a secret?  His family heritage seems to be universally known, only no one can talk about it.  He has a fake last name even though he’s living with his uncles, and no on questions it?  He was there, living there under his real name only a handful of years ago, but everyone ignores this and uses his fake last name?  She’s told he’s never told anyone, and yet everyone knows what happened to him?  This goes for both the series and the book.  I’m expecting something to happen to pull his story together, but right now I feel it contradicts itself.  Maybe I missed something major somewhere.  He has a price on his head, one large enough that anyone would might turn him in, only everyone knows and no one has.

In conclusion?  I like both the TV show and the written series 🙂  The book is a good romance, uncomplicated for the most part, and I find that I get through it quickly.  I do a lot of skimming though.  My first time through a book, I judge how much I really liked it if I’ve read most of it.  This book… aaaahhhhh, it’s skimmed.  I mean how else would I have gotten to page 500 on the first day?  There are some seriously long conversations that seem to go nowhere, and there are too many spoken words when there could be description.  Even though it’s written in the first person, I don’t always get what Claire is thinking.  I don’t get what she’s feeling.  I know what I might be feeling, which might be the idea, to allow the read to take the reigns, but sometimes a little guidance will make sure you don’t feel something completely opposite from the character, and then get confused in the next scene.

The actress who plays Claire in the TV show is excellent at showing the audience how she feels.  You can see it plainly on her face, of plainly that she’s trying to hide it.  She’s an excellent choice for Claire, and I believe her interpretation of the role.

I wouldn’t recommend the books for everyone.  The TV series, yes.  It’s adventurous and fun.  There’s some gore for the boys, some romance for the ladies, and some history for the interested.  The books are more for the ladies.  It’s a romance novel at core.  It’s a well done romance novel, but we’re so focused around Claire and Jamie, that a lot of the really great epic stuff gets left behind, which is where the TV series took liberties to fill in some gaps, rightfully so.

I’m going to write a second review of this after I’ve finished the first book, and perhaps the second.  Apparently there’s a whole bunch in the series, so it might take me some time to get through 🙂

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