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Review: ‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon

May 3, 2016

By complete accident, due to a mis-clicking incident while I was making my lunch, I happened to see the first episode of Outlander on Netflix a few days ago.  It was not something that had appealed to me as I’d heard the novel was a bit of a sweeping romance which is not the kind of genre I usually go in for, but I watched the whole episode and ended up completely hooked.  I couldn’t stop watching.  I finished the whole first series in three days and was blown away by its scope and content. 

Was it a sweeping romance?  Sure it was, but it was so much more than that.  Here I had finally found a show that was not afraid to tackle big issues like accountability, assault, both physical and sexual of both genders, and for me, the biggest and most impressive feat, really delving into the psychological implications that come with each of these, regardless of gender and sexuality. The very last episode absolutely blew me away with its violence and tragedy, and its willingness to show the psychological impact and vulnerabilities in the aftermath of sexual assault when all too often your body will respond physically when your mind, soul and spirit could not be more unwilling. 

Outlander by Diana Gabalon

With a television show that managed to do so much in only 16 episodes, I figured I simply had to read the book that inspired it.  The books are always more detailed so I couldn’t wait to pick it up and give it a go.  Last night I hit 52% and put it down in disgust.  Where was the strong, independent Claire who is finding her feet in a world she doesn’t understand?  Where was the powerful but vulnerable Jamie who easily navigates the dangers of his existence while still finding himself as the leader of his clan?  They didn’t exist.  Instead, I was given a first-person Claire who’s selfishness and arrogance abounded at every turn, a Jamie who really was a sadistic brute, and worst of all, a Captain Randall who’s behaviour was purely antagonistic until he showed homosexual proclivities at which point he was viewed with abject disgust.

I read as far as Claire’s beating at the hand of her husband and then put down the book, never to be picked up again.  Instead of strong characters with personality and depth, I was treated to a series of female denigrations which Claire accepts after very little fight, a complete lack of depth to any of the characters beyond their gender and sexual stereotypes and a general feel of patriarchal dominance which I just couldn’t get past.

Very rarely does a different medium so vastly improve on its source content, but in the case of Outlander, I can say with absolute certainty that the Starz series is a vast improvement.  I can’t judge the book too harshly as the basic plot is the same and the series couldn’t exist without it.  What I must say is kudos to the writers at Starz and their ability to take two dimensional, stereotyped characters and create something with so much depth and feeling.

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