Book Review: The Outlander, Gil Adamson

The OutlanderThe Outlander by Gil Adamson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love being drawn in and surprised by a great story. And when the writing is as beautiful as Ms. Adamson’s, a celebrated Canadian poet, it becomes an all-too-rare treat: a book I must tear myself away from as the clock ticks into the start of my work day.

Following The Outlander is a conversation between the author, Gil Adamson, and the writer Michael Ondaatje. Ms Adamson describes an image that came to her unbidden, one which she set to paper. She saw a young woman in a black dress fleeing an unseen pursuer. The image became the opening scene of this powerful historical suspense.

This is a thriller, not a mystery. We know who committed the crime, and as the story unfolds, we learn why. But the chase grabs us from the first sentence and holds us to the story’s final words, “Find me.” At times the followed become the pursuers; at times they become the left behind. The thrills are woven into a rich and deeply satisfying tale set in the Alberta Rockies at the turn of the 20th century.

The author’s gorgeous prose reveals the awesome and dreadful beauty of the setting . She presents us with a host of vivid, unforgettable characters: grim, ginger-haired twins bent on revenge; a Jeremiah Johnson-like recluse who runs from the shelter of love; a pugilistic preacher and an enterprising dwarf who provide moral guidance and whisky to exhausted miners; and the protagonist, Mary, a beautiful runaway, driven nearly mad with grief and terror. Her Odyssey through the mountains and plains of central Canada holds us captive. We shrink as she slowly starves, we soar when she is saved by strangers, we will her to survive as tragedy crushes her hope.

There are dark and terrible images, balanced by sweet moments of humor and grace. Ms. Adamson has created a thing of magic in The Outlander– a literary Western deeply connected by careful research and intricate details to the history of its setting that is also a wonderfully imaginative thriller you cannot put down.

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