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The Outlander
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 16 September 2009
It was hard to know what I was getting into when I opened this novel and started reading the first page. A tale of the Wild West? A thriller? An action-packed chase? A murder mystery? The Outlander is a book that's hard to pigeonhole: it's all these things and more. Full of deftly lyrical prose, it's a gripping read. It was also unexpectedly funny in places!

The cover makes this book look a bit like a thriller, or a 'boys-own' style book about adventure. I should note that this book isn't a thriller, although it's gripping and there's a lot of suspense. It's not a particularly gendered book, either, but would be interesting to both male and female readers. There is both action, intrigue and psychological exploration, as well as beautifully written and atmospheric descriptions of landscape. I think the cover mis-represents the book slightly, but then it is always a rather tricky marketing exercise - especially with an unusually varied book like this one where I find it hard to imagine who the 'target market' could possibly be.

There's no 'whodunnit' element to this book, despite the fact that its premise is that the main character is fleeing a murder scene. You find out soon enough exactly how the plot stands, although as with all the best books there are some missing details that emerge to fill in the picture as you read. There's also a lot left to guess at and think about. The novel is based around the idea of a journey: the physical journey undertaken by the main character (Mary Boulton, a widow who's on the run after murdering her husband) is mirrored by an equally important psychological journey as she faces up to her past, tackles her tricky present situation with determination and humour, and gains a new view on the world as she travels. The landscape and sense of place is beautifully described, bringing real atmosphere to the book as the main character travels through the Canadian wilderness.

Referred to often as 'the widow', Mary Boulton is a curiously odd character - compelling, endearing and puzzling, she is great to read about and wonder about. Mirroring the author's approach throughout the book, the widow's motivations and desires are hinted at rather than over-analysed. A great read and one that I found surprisingly compelling. I cannot imagine that there are loads of people out there who yearn specifically for a descriptively atmospheric, suspenseful novel that hovers between a thriller, a tale of the wild west and a quirky voyage of self-discovery - but isn't it often the case that you don't know what you want to read until you start it? I found the first few pages slightly hard going, but the plot kept me fascinated and it was an absorbing read once I'd got into it. In fact, a surprisingly good read and I'd recommend it. I would like to have given it 4.5 stars, as it really was an excellent book although it did not quite rate as one of 'the greats' for me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Mary Boulton has run away from home. Her brothers-in-law are after her because she killed her husband. In frontier times, this meant living rough in a way that we may no longer comprehend, removed as we are from the wild and, indeed, the diminishing areas of wilderness that we can experience. "The Outlander" brings this past world and the widow's struggles in it to scratchy, smelly, dirty, painful, (and thankfully to us) temporary life.

We may now appreciate that Mary probably murdered her husband because of postnatal depression, but it's tempting to think that this last act as his wife really came from her despair: hard years of marriage to an indifferent -- when not critical -- and unfaithful, unsupportive husband (in a house where the daily grind of housekeeping alone would have driven anyone to murder) and the loss, finally, of her hope for love catches Mary unawares when she shoots John. It is almost as if impulse decides that this is the last straw before she even knows it herself. So, her escape is unplanned, raw, almost random, and by those virtues, quite effective.

Mary discovers, as she runs, her weaknesses, her strengths, friendship, disaster, loss, love, and, finally, herself. Her husband comes to us mostly through Mary's memories; his brothers are the ones who remain alive and real, pushing her to run as they pursue. For most of the book, Adamson refers to Mary as "the widow" so that it's easy to forget that this widow was a teenage wife.

When the brothers finally catch her, it comes about by chance. The chase by then has taken its toll on them, too, and they realize that the widow -- as Mary herself has begun to realize -- is no longer the girl they set out to catch.

I read this book in two days. Calling it a Wild West story for girls would be a disservice. Adamson creates a Mary Boulton who is not perfect or noble or Amazonian: she is flawed and insecure and impulsive and sensitive, possibly even a little neurotic -- in short, someone we can understand and with whom we can sympathize, even like. She is not all that different to a lot of people I know today; she is not all that different to me. It just so happens that Adamson has written her in a past unknown to us now except as dry history or, in this case, vivid fiction.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 22 April 2010
I really loved the sound of this book when I read the back cover description whilst in my local Waterstones and my curiousity was immediately hooked and I had to buy it.

We follow our main character, Mary Boulton "the widow" who is running away from killing her husband and is being pursued by her two brothers in law through 19th century Canadian wilderness.

The language and prose used are just exceptional conjuring up in your mind with each paragraph the intensity of the situation Mary finds herself in. I found the narrative and pace just addictive and it hooked me all the way through to the climatic ending. We are introduced to many memorable characters along Mary's journey which even now stick in my mind. The story is haunting and emotional, but also exciting and takes you into the mind of Mary and whilst not condoning the murder of her husband you at least can sympathise with her and her very delicate emotional state. I drew some parallels with Cormac McCarthy's The Road in its bleakness and page turning ability to get you drawn in and hooked from page one.

I heartily recommend the Outlander and was quite sad to reach the end! I sincerely hope the author Gil Adamson will write further as I absolutely adore this book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 13 August 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book's main interest is the haunting way in which the main character is held at arm's length which leaves plenty of room for the imagination. The basic storyline is of a young 19 year old girl who is literally running from her past as she is perused relentlessly by the two brothers of the husband she has murdered. She runs blindly into the wilderness and her struggle to survive, her willpower, her sense of helplessness, her acceptance of isolation and her eventual coming to terms with herself form the bulk of the novel.

Along the way in the wilderness she meets a number of unusual and interesting characters who help her come to terms with herself as an individual and not as an appendage of her father or husband Although the author never allows us to glimpse too much of the widow's reasoning, thoughts and inner self - we do however get just enough to keep the interest.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, its well written although it starts off slowly with many descriptions of the Canadian wilderness the pace does pick up. As the brother's get closer the widow starts to build relationships and the author unwinds her personal tale which is subtle and interesting. So this is a book for those who are interested in human relationships and how we all have to cope with their messiness, its set in 1903 so its also a tale of a women asserting herself in a male society. The slow beginning may put some off but they should persevere because as the widow is always out of arm's reach this is a book that you think about when you put it down and it provides a tantalizing glimpse of life outside mainstream society where the wilderness coldly reflects human frailty.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This reminded me of Steff Penney's book, 'The Tenderness of Wolves' as it has the same Canadian setting and involves a woman journeying across inhospitable country. This one has a widow being chased by the twin brothers of her husband, she having killed him with a rifle. She is the central character and does not attempt to justify her actions, even to herself. There are few moments which reveal how her antipathy comes about, though there is a depiction of his violence in the bedroom and she suspects him of courting another woman. Nevertheless, seeing everything from her p.o.v. and having her pursued by men portrayed as cold and emotionless puts one on her side. We are used to reading about men who are outlaws, we even approve of a certain amount of criminal panache - our anti-heroes in literature are legion, but can women be allowed the same freedom?

Gil Adamson writes the Canadian landscape with a marvellous mixture of plain prose and tough poetic panache - it's see-through writing with a variety of characters who leap off the page. There are some moments that reminded me of the implacable beauty of Jim Crace's prose - especially as the town of Frank is buried under a landslide, reminiscent of what happens in his book The Pesthouse, when a natural gas disaster sinks a similar one-horse town under a lake. The atmosphere of The Outlander is equally well-created. It's a marvellous read, taut and nearly unbearable near to the end, but during her flight the widow discovers that most of what she wants to do she can do alone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
One of the benefits of being a `Vine Voice' is that I get to read books I would not ordinarily have bought myself. The outlander was on the list, and I chose it more because there was nothing else I fancied, rather than that it immediately appealed.

The language used, and the way it is used, as well as the structure of the book is very different to your average fiction book. This, I suppose, is closer to poetry, but in novel form. I found it quite challenging to read, especially at the start, and I did not immediately take to the main character of `the widow'. This is because there is not a huge amount of characterisation, so you find out the back story in snippets throughout the book. Also, the authors persistence in referring to her as `the widow' means I did not immediately empathized, or bonded with Mary Boulton the main character. Another thing I usually like in books is descriptions. When reading I like to delve into another world, so I like to know how steep the mountain is, how wide the range, is it snowing or raining, which way does the stream flow, etc etc. This book requires the reader to use their own sense of imagination as not a lot of info is given. If I had to compare this book to a painting I would say it is a minimalist Japanese painting of a single flower on a large white canvas (the beauty is in the execution of the minimum amount but perfectly executed brushstrokes used to create the painting) as opposed to a Rembrandt type painting where every single bit of the canvas is covered in depicting a scene (equally masterful but leaving less room for interpretation)

So, not an immediate winner. However I persisted and got drawn into this story. The writing grew on me. My own imagination filled in the blanks. And I even grew fond of `the widow' and her adventure. It is a good story, a woman on the run, out of place and out of time. She has got thoughts and dreams and expectations, all of which come through if you persist. Even the ending relies on the readers imagination, and allows you to draw your own conclusions. Not something I normally like, but found very fitting in this book

To my surprised, I like it. A lot. So read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I picked this book because of the setting - the Canadian mountains and coal mines, provincial towns and forest camps. What has surprised me is the depth of character depiction in what appeared to be little else than a chase story set in the wilderness, a la Jack London.

No, this book is much more than that. Mary Boulton, the pursuee, is a half-mad murderess, demonised by her victim's (her husband) vengeful brothers and nightmares, day and night, of her own grieving mind's invention. Strangely, I could identify with her, as having lost a child myself, her desperate attempts to mourn the loss of her baby are powerfully and accurately written.

The book contains many memorable characters, each seemingly given the chance to tell their stories to Mary. Another reviewer has trashed this concept - I love it! It enriches the tale and shows Mary's dependence on each person she meets. Perhaps it shows that she is more insane than she thinks, and even more crazy than her own ramblings would have the reader perceive.

So this book is a 'road trip' but as much as anything else, it's a road trip into the mind of a mourning murderer, without being overly macabre. Fascinating stuff!

This book is greater still for the fact that it is the first novel from Adamson - a stunning debut, methinks!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In 1903 a young woman, Mary Boulton, makes her way alone through the mountains, forests and valleys of Canada pursued by two men with rifles. As the story unfolds we find out that she has murdered her husband and the men are his brothers desperate for revenge. Rather than refer to her by name the author calls her "the widow" which creates a somewhat mythical status for her. Along the way she meets a strange reclusive man known as the Ridgerunner, and Indian and his wife, Bonnycastle, an eccentric but kindly church minister, and McEchern, the dwarf who runs the trading post. Although she is trying to survive in a harsh environment nearly all the people she comes in contact with are benign. But her brothers-in-law are relentless in their search for her.
This is a simple story beautifully told. The description of life in the mountains is vividly described - the hunger, the cold and the despair all seemed so real. The mining town of Frank is graphically portrayed.
It would be a cold-hearted reader who didn't care what happened to Mary -I found I was racing to get to the end!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Outlander is a curiously mixed bag, its striking opening tailing off into an increasingly awkward first few chapters before style and story start to cohere. The plot is fairly simple, following the `widow' on one of those journeys where she's running away from the vengeance of her in-laws after murdering her husband but finding herself along the way. Unfortunately we don't really find her: for a book about a character's inner journey we're kept at a distance and we're never given any real answers - or even much background detail - before an ending that just feels like everybody decided to call it a day. Yet if the heroine remains somewhat removed, the journey itself is a colourful and eventful mixture of fictional characters and the odd historical event the heroine witnesses to keep you hooked even if you aren't drawn to its leading character. It's not a distaff version of Cormac McCarthy by any means, but it's well enough written for you not to notice the superficiality and thinness of some of the material while you're reading it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but thats what attracted me to this one! You follow the widow as she runs for her life after killing her husband, of course you want to know why she killed him but the author wisely holds back allowing just a few scraps of information to surface at a time. In the meantime you get caught up in her struggle first to survive in the winter wilderness, then to make some sort of life for herself and finally to try and actually live again despite the past. The other characters are interesting enough for you to want to know more about them. I don't want to give the plot away but events happen quickly and unexpectedly in this book and characters that you had warmed to vanish, at first I found this a little unsettling but then I realised that this is a reflection of the unstable world the widow finds herself in. I really hope Gil Adamson writes more fiction and I for one would like to read more about Bonny or William!
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