July 2015 Club

Outlander - Diana Gabaldon

An epic yarn set in the Scottish Highlands, Outlander isn’t your common or garden historical novel.

Gabaldon manages to convince the reader that a post-WWII nurse, Claire Randall, who is holidaying near Inverness with her husband on a second honeymoon, having been separated for many of the war years, touches an ancient stone and is whisked back in time to 18th Century Scotland, meets a charming young Scot whom she ends up marrying, becoming Claire Fraser and in any normal timeline, a bigamist.

Claire’s 20th Century husband, Frank, comes across as caring if a little patronising and has a tendency to get lost in “brief periods of scholastic rapture where he lost touch with the world”. In the early pages of the book, he has a very involved conversation with a local historian about his six times great grandfather, Black Jack Randall.

When Claire “lands” in the 18th Century, she finds herself in the middle of a skirmish between the English Redcoats (lobsterbacks) and a band of Highlanders, and the Redcoats captain, the spitting image of her husband, attempts to take advantage of her.

A charming young red-headed Scot comes to the rescue, Jamie Fraser. She employs her nursing skills to fix his dislocated shoulder, and the Highlanders’ suspicions that she may be an English spy gradually dissipate as she is whisked off to Castle Leoch and wins their initial trust through her knowledge of medicine, which along with her interest in botany, makes her useful to them as a healer.

Lost in a world of strange customs and often, the Gaelic language, Claire is aware that the only way back to the 20th Century and to Frank, is to find her way back to the stone circle. But she’s been virtually held as a prisoner, and her attempts are thwarted.

She ends up in the hands of Captain Randall – learns that Jamie’s deeply scarred back is a result of a vicious whipping by him, attempts to outwit him by using her historical knowledge of events, but ends up almost raped at knifepoint by him. Gallant Jamie rescues her, but to protect her from Randall, they must marry. Claire is reluctant, thinking about her husband in the 20th Century, but unable to tell them, and so has no choice but to marry Jamie, whom she has feelings for, but knows it’s so wrong.

Once Jamie finds out about Frank, he takes her back to the stone circle so that she can return to him if she chooses to. She chooses to stay with Jamie. He affectionately calls her “Sassenach” and gradually through their many dices with death, they fall deeply in love.

Over time, she makes a good friend – Geillis, also a healer and a druid. Geillis is later burned at the stake for witchcraft, having exonerated Claire who also faced charges. Claire recognises a smallpox vaccine on Geillis’s arm – “the Devil’s mark” - as she’s dragged off and realises Geillis is a time traveller like herself.

Towards the end of the novel, Jamie is once again captured by the English and taken to Wentworth Prison where he suffers a horrific rape at the hands of Randall. Claire and the rest of the clan infiltrate the prison and rescue Jamie, but he is mentally scarred and deeply depressed.

Despite the potential for this book to have slipped into the Mills and Boon romantic genre, Gabaldon saves it from that fate by her captivated storytelling skills, painting a rich, historical landscape with absorbing characters who the reader cares about and peppers the writing with wit. Claire is fierce, intelligent and resourceful – an entirely credible character.

Colourway inspiration

The rich Scottish landscape provided the inspiration for the variegated colourway.

Purple and plums of the heather, moss green, grass green, gorse yellow and the blue of the lochs and brooks. I called it Lallybroch after Jamie’s ancestral home.

For the semi-solid, I chose the purple of the heather, which with the effect of the neps in the Tweedore yarn, should provide the look of a rustic Scottish hillside. I called it Heatherlands.