This is my review of The Outlander by Gil Adamson.
This book creates striking, poetic images of the Canadian wilderness and changing weather. It also captures the human will to survive in adversity, and what it must feel like to hallucinate – begin to die from starvation. The realities of living rough are also well described.
Interwoven with the slow place, and focus on introspection and memory, is the bones of quite a gripping plot. The reader knows from the first few pages that the main character is on the run from the two brothers of the husband she has killed. The reasons for this act of violence, and the details of the crime are leaked out judiciously to maintain the suspense. Even when life seems to be improving for the widow, as she is rather awkwardly called throughout, you know that her pursuers are still on the trail. There is sufficient brutality in the tale for you to be uncertain as to whether it will end happily- the author seems capable of bumping off any of the characters. Also, the widow has a certain ambiguity: she is clearly a flawed character, a kleptomaniac for instance, and her degree of guilt, the strength of extenuating circumstances, are unclear.
Although this book deserves praise, my main reservations lie in the fact that the author seems uncertain how to fill in the gap between the arresting beginning, and initially exciting but ultimately rather flat and contrived denouement. She peoples the plot with a number of rather unconvincing, two dimensional characters who are too often caricatures, and some rather tedious and uninteresting incidents. At times I was reminded of a feminist take on Huckleberry Finn e.g. the section spent in Frank with the Reverend, but occasionally it smacked of a kind of Western Mills and Boon – I refer in particular to the romantic passages, and the odd encounter with Henry the Indian and his too good to be true wife.
As already implied, I did not care for the ending (which I cannot give away). If I understood it correctly, it seemed like a somewhat gimmicky contrivance. And why did the ridgerunner need to be so called all the time?
I was also unsure about the depth of psychology intended. I think the author liked her main character, the widow, and we were meant to empathise with her. Yet, on one level, she seemed cold to the point of lacking normal emotions. Had she been "frozen" by her upbringing and driven temporarily insane by post-natal trauma? Her husband did not seem "bad enough" to justify killing him! She generally seemed too rational and calculating to have committed this act, as described.
To end on a positive note, some of the descriptions and turns of phrase to reflect on life were beautiful and memorable.