The Outlandish Companion

The Outlandish Companion: In Which Much Is Revealed Regarding Claire and Jamie Fraser, their Lives and Times, Antecedents, Adventures, Companions, and Progeny, with Learned Commentary (and Many Footnotes) by their Humble Creator by Diana Gabaldon

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This large volume is not a novel at all, but a reference book to help readers understand and enjoy the Outlander series, a hard-to-categorize-and-describe set of long novels about a time traveler and the Scottish Highlander she marries, set beginning in the 1740s and spanning several decades (and centuries). This series has a cast of thousands, as the 30-page alphabetical list of characters attests, so a companion book like this could really help a reader who gets confused by very complicated and involved narratives. This companion book includes a lot of information on the setting and the extensive historical research Gabaldon has done. Some of the information is not meant to alleviate confusion, but to enrich reading through adding information about the writing process, the characters’ backgrounds, and a bibliography of books for further reading. It was written in 1999, so it’s pretty out of date, with an excerpt from a book that has since been published under another name, and information about websites that are surely long extinct.

When Gabaldon talks about her writing and her characters, she has an almost mystical approach, as if the characters were pre-existing and she merely discovered them, as if she is a psychic conduit for something bigger than herself, the story. It’s a way of talking about writing that I’ve heard before but which always mystifies me, because it seems so different from anything I think I could ever experience.

In this companion book, Gabaldon spends far too much time justifying things that I think a writer need never justify, like her inclusion of sex scenes and dirty language. A good reader can tell that these sex scenes are well-written and contain plot-relevant information, and that the “profane” language is not gratuitous, but reveals character and is realistic. The readers object to these passages on the principle that no good book, no real literature, could ever contain graphic sex or four-letter words. These criticisms are so obviously small-minded that I don’t think they’re worth dignifying with a response, but Gabaldon devotes pages to explaining why depicting sex is important in a series about a marriage and why particular characters would use certain words in very emotional situations. I guess it’s nice that she takes her readers this seriously, and it shows the amount of thought that goes into every decision she makes in her writing.

This companion book is nowhere near as enjoyable as the novels they explicate. I find the novels fascinating; they’re like a rabbit hole that just goes deeper and deeper. The next book in the series is Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, coming out in March next year.

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