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Book Review – The Outlander by Gil Adamson

The Outlander
by Gil Adamson
416 pages
Published in HC April 15, 2008; PB June 30, 2009
Fiction, historical

As part of my reading deliberately, one of the books I was intent on reading this year was The Outlander. It seemed right up my alley and I know I read good reviews of it, so when I told my real life book club (as opposed to my fake life book club) that I thought we should disband the book club, but I found out they all wanted to continue, I said, Fine, but here’s the books I want to read. The Outlander was one of them, and thus our February book was picked.

I don’t know if you remember, but I really disliked The English Patient. I only bring that up because I should have known I wouldn’t like this book because Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, gushed all over this book. In fact, I think my book might even have the remnants of Ondaatje’s spittle.

Oh, wait. That’s from when I fell asleep reading. Nevermind.

Here’s why I thought The Outlander sounded so fantastic: Mary, 19-years-old in the year 1903, kills her husband and has to flee for her life from his crazed brothers intent on seeing justice prevail over their brother’s killer. But she lives out in the middle of nowhere, so she flees farther into nowhere (the Alberta Rockies), and almost dies. I don’t want to tell you too much, but that’s the gist of the story.

Because Mary killed her husband, she flashes back to scenes from her married life. I’ve seen this done beautifully, seamlessly, but I really thought Adamson was choppy in the way that Mary doled out to the reader the details of her married life and why she killed her husband. In a story where the main character has KILLED HER HUSBAND and is RUNNING FROM HIS CRAZY BROTHERS, there should be a certain amount of suspense and Oh my god I wonder what happened. Instead, I felt rather ho hum she killed her husband *yawn*. Instead of suspense and back story and Mary obsessing over how she might survive, there was a lot of description of the mountains and a rather linear telling of the story.

One thing that bugged me was that Mary’s name is used a handful of times. For most of the book, she’s referred to as “the widow”. I wondered at around 50 pages why I was unengaged and didn’t really care about Mary, and I couldn’t help but surmise that I felt turned off by the lack of a proper name, even though I knew her name was Mary.

I couldn’t help but feel a little cynical at the love story in The Outlander and how the story ultimately wrapped up. Even as cynical as I am at happy endings, I do like them, but this just seemed a little too pat, a little too easy, a little too…unrealistic.

When I read books for my book club, I’ve got little tabs ready so that I can mark passages I find interesting, inspiring, important, funny, etc. I didn’t use a SINGLE TAB in this book. I couldn’t find anything remarkable to note for the future.

To be honest, I didn’t realize how much I didn’t like The Outlander until I just wrote this review. I don’t like disliking a book, so maybe I should just pass this book along and say, It’s not you, it’s me.

Rating: Don’t bother.

Gil Adamson’s website: http://giladamson.com/

Other reviews:

The Written World (loved it)

an adventure in reading (really liked it)

caribousmom (loved it)

Book source: I bought this book myself.

And one more thing? If you click on one of The Outlander links and buy something from Powell’s, I’ll make a commission! Mwahahahaha!! Maybe with the pennies I make I’ll be able to call someone who cares.

You can thank the FTC for this disclosure!

| Tags: , , 36 comments »

36 Responses to “Book Review – The Outlander by Gil Adamson”

  1. B.Kienapple

    Nooooo! I loved this book! I love gothic tales. Adamson is so good at natural description and I was kept on edge as to whether the widow’s viewpoint could be trusted or not and if she would be caught. I thought the love story at the end was touching. Adamson’s prose is spare and never overwrought and done with a deft hand. *takes a deep breath* But it’s all subjective!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    LOL!! I hate it when someone doesn’t like a book I loved, so I know how you feel. This was a book club pick, so it was interesting to chat about.

    [Reply]

    B.Kienapple Reply:

    Ha! It’s so true, when you get passionate book people together, and one loves a book and another doesn’t. My book club just read Shadow Tag and I loved it and many didn’t and it was fun just being able to go head to head and debating it. That really is the best part!

    [Reply]

  2. bermudaonion (Kathy)

    I wasn’t crazy about The English Patient either, so I think I’ll skip this one.

    [Reply]

  3. Just Mom

    I saw this at a book sale yesterday and remembered all the good reviews I had read. But then, I looked at it and thought but will I like it? And decided to put it back. If I didn’t have so many I already know I want to read, I might be more open to taking chances. There’s just not enough time!

    [Reply]

  4. Wendy

    Oh, I am so bummed you didn’t love this book as I did!!! But I understand reading is SO subjective! Thanks for the link love 🙂

    [Reply]

  5. Kathleen

    What a bummer. I hate when an author takes a really good concept/premise and ruins it. I hate to say it but this sounds like it will make a better movie than book.

    [Reply]

  6. Sandy

    Well, I got all excited there for a minute because I thought it was Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, which is all about kick-startin’ that libido, you know what I mean? I really don’t know which side I would fall on for this Outlander, but just hearing your description is enough to send me in the opposite direction. But how uncomfortable to finally get to select the book you want to read for book club, then you hate it?

    [Reply]

  7. softdrink

    Uh-oh. I have this on my shelf. Maybe I’ll just leave it there for a while longer.

    [Reply]

  8. Michele@A Reader's Respite

    Nuthin’ wrong with not liking a book and thanks for telling me why….I know what you mean about an author you don’t like blurbing a book. It always makes me suspicious that I won’t like the book being blurbed.

    [Reply]

  9. Staci

    Oh, I so wanted to read that you loved it!! I picked this one up for a $1 at my library sale so I guess worse case scenario is I’m out a buck, right?

    [Reply]

  10. zibilee

    This is another book that I have been really curious about and wanted to try, but after reading your review, I am a lot less excited about it. I think it sounds sort of dry, and also like the story wasn’t told in a very engaging way. I think I will probably end up skipping this one, but I do thank you for your awesomely honest review!

    [Reply]

  11. Jen-Girls Gone Reading

    URG! I hate when they don’t use the woman’s name. Don’t you think the do this more for female than male characters??? I agree-how can I connect to you if I don’t even call you by name.

    [Reply]

  12. S. Krishna

    Ok, I’m glad I haven’t read this one yet! And love that you referred to us as your fake life book club., LOL!

    [Reply]

  13. Britt, Book Habitue

    Yeah I was seriously not a fan of this one either. Drove me nuts. I just could NOT care.

    [Reply]

  14. HelenB

    I really liked this book, but I think the best way of describing it is, idk, a very “male” book? Most of the guys I know who’ve read it loved it, and I think it’s because it’s light on emotion, and has a real feeling of man vs. nature. I thought it was quite beautiful in parts, too, so I’m sorry you didn’t like it.

    [Reply]

  15. Lisa

    Oh, I hate when I don’t like the book I recommended for book club. I usually try to recommend books I’ve already read. Means I have one less book I have to read that month and I know that at least there are things to talk about even if everyone else hates it.

    No tabs???!!! I do usually judge how much a liked a book by the number of tabs I use, too, or the number of notes I take.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Heh. Speaking of tabs, when I took THE UNNAMED to be signed by the author, Joshua Ferris, someone saw all my tabs (while I was chatting with him) and was like Holy cow! That’s a lot of tabs!

    [Reply]

    Lisa Reply:

    I have had books where I have so many tabs, it’s hard to find the next one when you’re ready to start discussing or reviewing. Then I have to decide which of those wonderful passages or points I should use which is so hard to do!

    [Reply]

  16. Julie

    Oh, I loved it! I thought the pace was perfect, and I loved the writing. I’ll have to respectfully disagree.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Fair enough. And you know, that’s what I love about reading, and particularly about being in a book club. It’s fun to read a book and see how others react to the exact same book. It’s almost like magic. 🙂

    [Reply]

  17. Lisa

    Like you I tab my books for bookclub, and this one really did not have many tabs but it is a good read. I also agree somewhat about the love story
    I would recommend it though. I think its a great story.
    I saw Gil Adamson speak about the book and I really adored her.

    [Reply]

  18. Ruth Seeley

    I’m still reeling from your crack about Michael Ondaatje’s spittle. I don’t really see any basis for comparison between The English Patient and The Outlander and I’m beginning to conclude the use of flashbacks in novels is something that polarizes readers more than any other technique (I, for instance, thought the way the flashbacks in The Bishop’s Man were done was flawless, but another reviewer just hated them).

    I think you have to look at The Outlander in the context of a lot of other Canadian lit that focuses on the lives of women – beginning, of course, with colonial Canadian lit like Susannah Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush with a segue through Sinclair Ross’s As for Me and My House and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace. And of course, place is almost always a ‘character’ in Canadian lit. I’m looking forward now to rereading The Outlander to see whether I agree with you the choppiness aspect or not – certainly didn’t notice it on my first read.

    [Reply]

  19. Monica (aka monnibo)

    I skimmed most of the review since I’m reading this RIGHT NOW. I’m about 3 chapters from the end. I picked it up because it was a Canada Reads pick in 2009. I hope you’ll pick some more Canadian titles!!

    [Reply]

  20. Amber Stults

    Did your book club get as much discussion and differing opinons as your book review.

    I actually liked it that she was called The Widow for a long time into the story. It made me think that whoever she was before didn’t matter. This was her new identity whether or not it was justified.

    [Reply]

  21. Jenny

    If I don’t know much about a book, and then an author I hate says it’s good, I usually give it a miss until something happens to change my mind. Sadly the reverse rarely works – an author I like endorsing a book does not often make me decide to read it. Apparently my mind believes bad authors like bad books but not that good authors like good books. :/

    [Reply]

  22. Beth F

    You mentioned the killer words: English.Patient. UGH, ugh, ugh.

    [Reply]

  23. kay @ Infiniteshelf

    I’m thinking of starting this one soon. The reviews on the blogosphere are either really good or really negative, so I have no idea whether I’ll like it or not!

    [Reply]

  24. kay @ Infiniteshelf

    Apparently, I erased part of my message – oops! I was saying, sorry you didn’t enjoy this one, but I loved reading your opinion of it.

    [Reply]

  25. Carrin Mahmood

    Been on my list for a while…hmmm might skip it now. A book without tabs is like a margharita without salt!!! My book club would NEVER believe I had actually read it if there were no tabs. That IS a bad sign!!!

    [Reply]

  26. Jennifer

    Well, even when we try really hart to no dislike a book, it happens sometimes. Not every book can be well written and witty with a seamlessly flowing plot that makes sense while also carrying a deeper meaning. Good books that can reach a wide audience are hard to find – although following a bunch of different book blogs an make it a lot easier. Sorry that this one turned out to be a disappointment. Better luck with the next read.

    [Reply]

  27. Stephanie

    That’s too bad about this one–it premise sounds like it would be awesome. Did your book club like it? I hate it when i choose books that my book club hates (case in point–The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Although they may have all been smoking dope because I thought it was great!).

    [Reply]

  28. Keetha

    I tried to read The English Patient and could not get into it for anything. So thanks for the heads up about The Outlander – I’ll steer clear of it, too!

    I just came across your blog and have bookmarked it. I love books!

    [Reply]

  29. Precious Williams

    I have this on my To-Read shelf. I’m expecting great things! Judging from your review maybe I will be disappointed! In the past couple of months I’ve read loads of books that were heavily hyped and turned out to be just blah…

    [Reply]

  30. Monica

    *BACK AFTER FINISHING*

    I thought it was a good character-driven story. A bit slow in plot but very poetic in language. I certainly see what you mean about Mary being referred to as “the widow”. There is a bit of an emotional disconnect because of that.

    I put all my thoughts in my review: http://www.monniblog.com/2010/07/the-outlander-by-gil-adamson/

    [Reply]

  31. Jessica

    Hooray for reading deliberately! Too bad that you didn’t like this better. But chalk it up as a win.

    [Reply]

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