book review for The Outlander by Gil AdamsonI wanted to read this book after I listened to the Canada Reads debates in 2009. It wasn’t the winning book (that was The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill), but the positive things said about The Outlander by Gil Adamson stuck with me. (Note: Gil is short for Gillian, and therefore pronounced like ‘Jill’)

In 1903 a mysterious young woman flees alone across the West, one heart-pounding step ahead of the law. At nineteen, Mary Boulton has just become a widow—and her husband’s killer. As bloodhounds track her frantic race toward the mountains, she is tormented by mad visions and by the knowledge that her two ruthless brothers-in-law are in pursuit, determined to avenge their younger brother’s death. Responding to little more than the primitive fight for life, the widow retreats ever deeper into the wilderness—and into the wilds of her own mind—encountering an unforgettable cast of eccentrics along the way.

Overall I think the book was well-written. It’s a very unique point of view. Although for the majority of the book we followed Mary, the widow, she was consistently referred to as ‘the widow’. I think this really drove home the reason for her story: she has lost her husband, by her own hand, and is running from her brothers-in-law. The author never wants the reader to forget why our main character is a widow.

The prose is almost poetic, which makes sense considering the novel was inspired by a poem that Gil Adamson wrote years prior. I liked how we mainly stayed with Mary as she traversed the Canadian wilderness. It was interesting to see how she grew and developed as a person. She was raised to be a woman of society: needlepoint, darning socks, cooking dinner. She fell into a marriage she soon grew to resent and eventually quit. We meet Mary after she’s snapped and verynearly crazy. As she battled the elements, the forest, and the mountains… she came to discover herself. She had likes, dislikes, preferences. Previously she was always told what she was supposed to like, how she was supposed to act, and what was proper and improper. It really is satisfying for the reader to follow a character as they grow, develop, and come out the other side.

Although, the character journey was not the whole book. I think if it had been, it would have become easily boring. While there was a constant need for survival, there was also the agonizing knowledge that Mary was being tracked and hunted by ruthless brothers seeking revenge for her husband’s murder. The fact that her brothers-in-law want to kill her becomes driving force behind Mary’s survival choices; she discovers she wants to live.

At times I felt the story dragged a little (running through the forest, passing out, running more), and at one point (what I thought was going to be gripping) it was a little too drawn out for my preferences. However, I like the choices the author made and I like how, although it was a bit open-ended, it didn’t leave me feeling unfulfilled. I put the novel down with satisfaction and will be passing it on to my mom to read.