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Flawed - but glorious!
on 22 September 2012
It is, of course, nonsense, but what glorious nonsense!
Glorious, because Diana Gabaldon has, like Ellis Peters before her, created a complete world out of pure cloth.
I am now halfway through the third Outlander book in a week - and that alone shows the power of Gabaldon's ability to create characters and to describe events in a way which is not easy to leave, once you have been sucked inside this other world.
I have, am having and will have much enjoyment from this wonderful series. But there are some flaws.
The first flaw is, like the Cadfael books, Outlander idealizes its characters. In the Cadfael canon, there is always a dewy-eyed maiden and a noble knight. Similarly, Outlander provides the "knight" in Jamie and the maiden in the shape of Claire herself. Would 18th century Scotland be likely to produce such characters? One doubts it and, further, it is the "non-ideal" characters - such as Rupert MacKenzie or the "auld goat" Lovat, which are much more interesting.
The second flaw is that far too little attention is paid to the one whom, from an historical point of view, is the principal character, i.e. Prince Charles Edward Stuart - or (as Billy Connolly has observed, "the only man in history to be named after three sheepdogs") "Bonnie Prince Charlie". He is, at best, a walk-on character, depicted as a drunken sot, a womanizer and a dreamer - duplicitous and uncaring of his military supporters. All of this may be - and probably is - true, but one could have wished for a portrait of Charles Stuart in much greater depth and, in particular, the relationships with his generals and advisors - not just that with Claire (ooh, he didn't like her, did he?) and Jamie.
The third flaw is the rather amazing and constant dwelling on corporal punishment throughout the series. We hear - frequently - how Jamie was "strapped", as a boy, by his father, we see how Jamie thrashes Claire for disobedience, we have graphic detail on the various whippings Jamie suffers, we are forced to endure the pornographic detail of Jack Randall's sado-masochistic abuse of Jamie and, if all of that were not enough, the bit I have just read describes Jamie and his nephew thrashing each other at the family gatepost. Now, is it me, or does all of this sound somewhat strange to you?
The fourth flaw is inconsistency. For example, there appears to be some confusion between Books 1 and 2 as to whether Claire first disappears in 1946 (Cross-Stitch) or in April 1945 (Dragonfly in Amber). If the latter, why are Claire and Frank in Scotland at all? This is meant to be post-war and April 1945 is NOT post-war. Similarly, the disappearance of Geillis Duncan (Gillian Edgars) is either 1967 or 1968 - you pays your money and you takes your choice. Also, the occasional Americanism which creeps in and the constant American English spelling - e.g. "honorable" as the speech of an 18th-century Scot who also says "ye" and "lassie" are jarring. And, while we're about it, I really would question the rendition of English as spoken by 18th-century Scots Highlanders. The speech given is much more like lowland Scots of that period. It's too late now, but it would have assisted Ms. Gabaldon to have first read "Whisky Galore" by Compton Mackenzie. Finally, the various episodes where Scots highlanders are arguing with each other in English (e.g. between Callum -who, confusingly for a non-Gaelic audience - appears later as "Colum") - so, presumably, to aid the understanding of the English Claire - are, quite frankly, unbelievable.
The fifth flaw is illogicality- and this is really what I meant by describing the series as "nonsense". By "nonsense" I don't mean the time travel - one must accept this premise or reject the entire series at the outset - I mean that the concept was not fully developed. On the first occasion Claire is transported back to the 18th-century, she is taken completely be surprise - all well and good. But, do you not think that, on the second occasion, she might have taken a little more with her than her (designer) gown, her daughter's photos, her bag of money ("Wi' gold in her pocket and wi' siller in her purse...") and her peanut butter sandwich. Did it not strike the doctor from a Boston hospital to bring back with her - say - some antibiotics - or even some aspirin? For all she knew, she might have found her true love, Jamie, in a state of collapse through an infection and have nothing to offer him save her "embraces". Having had 20 years to think about it, a curious lack of foresight would you not say?
Gentle reader, none of the above should prevent you from buying the first book in the Outland series, "Cross-Stitch". (Do not buy any other first or you will be totally confused.) These are, in the scheme of things, minor gripes in a VERY entertaining series.