Outlander by Diana Gabaldon was the start for many people, but I picked it up after watching the first two seasons of the TV series. Here are my thoughts on the novel as a show-first fan.
I’m a show-first fan when it comes to the Outlander universe. That means I watched the series before I picked up the novels. While I knew of the novels first, they were always those books that I just never had time to read. And by the time I’d learned about them, Diana Gabaldon was five books into the series and I didn’t really know if I wanted to commit to them.
It was a friend who loves British history as much as I do that continually told me to read the books. Then she told me to watch the series. Yet, I didn’t tune in until summer 2017, when I came across it on Netflix Canada. From watching the first episode, I found myself drawn into this world and devoured the two seasons available within the space of three days.
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Then came the third season. As I watched that, I decided it was time to pick up the first Outlander novel.
The Outlander book delves deeper into the world
There’s only so much that a TV series can do. Even with 16 episodes, parts of the Outlander world had to be avoided. The novel certainly doesn’t have that problem. One thing I found as I read the book was that I got more of an understanding of certain elements set up. I learned more about Claire’s view of her relationship with Frank and her feelings for Jamie as she grew to know him more.
More importantly, I learned more about the stones and Claire’s decision not to return to her own time. During Outlander Season 1 I constantly had one question: Did Claire choose to remain with Jamie or did the stones not allow her to pass through? That wasn’t a question I had from the novels. It was all explained clearly and the emotion came through perfectly.
Gabaldon spent time fleshing out Claire’s character and the fleshing out the others through Claire’s view. The world was created with detail and, while I’m sure there is plenty more in Gabaldon’s head, there was plenty to delve into throughout the Outlander book.
I will admit that I’m a fan of when shows take their stories in different directions from the book material. There’s an element of surprise and uniqueness to the story, making it more entertaining for me as a reader/viewer. That’s possibly why I didn’t connect to a lot of the book that remained the same, but I thoroughly enjoyed the moments that were different. I loved seeing how Gabaldon initially created this world and then went back to watch the episodes again to see some of the more minor details.
Sometimes a little overwhelming
There is a lot of information in the novel. Gabaldon isn’t afraid to delve into details, and sometimes the most minute details. Whether it’s the way the light shines on a glass or the color of the forget-me-nots, there was detail that I didn’t always need. Some of the novel was a little overwhelming with the unnecessary explanation or tangent thoughts.
But I know that is a personal view and it’s one of the reasons I don’t like first-person novels, which Outlander is. First-person written novels allow for the author to go off on more tangents, as the thoughts progress. Sometimes that happened a little too much.
It wasn’t always easy to follow the dialogue either. There were times I had to go back to figure out who was talking or who characters were talking about. Even scenes that I knew from the series I struggled to follow in the novel at times, especially on the first attempt.
Jamie’s PTSD just didn’t quite fit
When someone asks me what I thought about Jamie’s PTSD in Outlander Season 2, I say how much of a fan I was of that decision to “keep it in.” Well, it turned out that it wasn’t something the show kept in, but something the show adapted. And adapted for the better.
In the novel, Jamie seems to get over the majority of the mental blocks after his horrific ordeal at Wentworth Prison (which wasn’t as graphic or detailed as I expected based on comments from readers in the Facebook groups). This is partially a problem with the first-person view. We see Claire’s steps to deal with everything happening to Jamie, rather than Jamie going through the PTSD himself.
Black Jack’s actions against Jamie aren’t those you can just get over after a few days or weeks. In fact, many people never get over PTSD; they learn to deal with the thoughts, feelings, and flashbacks. This was a point that I thought Gabaldon missed slightly in the novel and it could have been delved in more. Maybe some of those scenes written from Jamie’s point of view would work well to tell that full story.
Outlander book review: In conclusion
Overall, I enjoyed the novel and some of the extra detail. The on-topic detail of the world and the history were the areas that I enjoyed the most. I loved learning more about Claire’s view of her relationships with Frank and Jamie and that extra element dealing with the stones: seeing Jamie realize that the stones and time travel were real.
Sometimes the extra details were too much and unnecessary, but that’s something I’ve seen some other book fans admit. Dealing with the PTSD was the most disappointing element for me, but that may have been due to writing in first-person.
What did you think about the Outlander book by Gabaldon? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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