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Book Review: The Exile by Diana Gabaldon

Genre: Graphic Novel, Romance
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: September 21, 2010
ISBN-10: 0345505387
ISBN-13: 978-0345505385
Author Website: Diana Gabaldon
Download Outlander for your Kindle.

In The Exile, author Diana Gabaldon draws on her experience writing Disney comics to turn the first third of her 1998 narrative Outlander into a graphic novel. What results is a mixed bag of effort, well-illustrated but lacking in the depth of her 656 page time-travel romance.

The story revolves around two people, James Fraser and Claire Randall. James is an 18th century Scotsman, part of the movement to put the Stuarts back on the throne of England. It was a violent time in Scotland, and local lords were as often thugs as leaders. Claire is a British woman from 1945, thrust back in time, very nearly into James’ arms. From there, the story becomes a romance between these two characters as the Sassenach (outlander) Claire is forced to marry James in order not to be branded a spy and killed outright. In the novel, the primary perspective is Claire’s, but in this version, it follows James instead.

The problem with this version of the Outlander story is that Gabaldon could only write the story in broad strokes. And since this is a condensed version of about 218 pages of text, those strokes paint a canvas that should fill a room of the Louvre but that fits into a thin hardback. In essence, what we get is the outline of a tale, with dialogue, rather than a full and complete story.

Gabaldon chose not to include much expositional or introspective material, except to indicate when the panels went from one day to the next, and the result is that it is hard to follow the story. But what suffers most is the romantic angle. Since we do not get inside the head of the characters, we end with a lot of dialogue that is primarily statements of fact rather than a real conversation between two people. It is sparse language, most speech bubble containing one sentence at most, often engimatic.

I found that in many cases, the story was confusing, as it hopped from place to place or moment to moment in order for Gabaldon to ensure important scenes from the original book made it into the graphic novel. The result feels mish-mashed, with a plotline too often interrupted by seemingly unneeded scenes. (They may have import later, but their import is only partial and very limited in The Exile)

Since the graphic novel only covers the first third of the book, the ending is left somewhat open-ended. However, readers will find that the romantic plot between James and Claire has a fairly satisfying resolution. But there are still significant plot lines left open.

The art drawn by Hoang Nguyen is visually vibrant, full of powerful complementing colors and a pseudo-anime body and facial structures. I wouldn’t have though it would work, but it makes the emotions of the characters, especially the women very clear. Readers should be aware that there is at least one depiction of naked bodies in the throes of love-making. Also, during a witch-trial, one pregnant woman stripes herself bare in anger.

And too, all of the women seem to be masculine ideals of women (skinny and busty) rather than even semi-accurate depictions. In the afterword, even Gabaldon mentions that there was some discussion over Claire’s rather large upper body between her and Nguyen. But even though Gabaldon mentioned it as inaccurate, the art was left that way. For some male readers, such as myself, it was a distraction from the otherwise superb rendering, and diminishes the strength and depth of character of Claire and the other women in the tale.

Ultimately, and intimate knowledge of the original novel is necessary to really enjoy this story. For readers like myself, unfamiliar with the original narrative, it is confusing web of scenes whose chain of events takes a significant amount of time to catch hold of, and which is explained only by often cryptic dialogue or command statements, that the artwork does nothing to clarify. The Exile will be appealing to readers who have read the original book, but to the uninitiated, it isn’t worth the expense.