The Outlander by Gil Adamson

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The Outlander by Gil Adamson

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Having apparently killed her husband, the young Mary Boulton escapes into the wilds of Canada. Pursued by her late husband's brothers she seeks a place where she can be safe, a place where she can come to terms with the monstrous thing she has done, and the monsters that lurk in the darkness of her own mind. Along the way, she finds she need not necessarily be alone.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-0747595922

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Have you ever been walking in the woods and unexpectedly heard the local Hunt? Have you walked unknown paths knowing that the dogs were on to a scent? What if it was your scent? And what if you knew they'd find you?

The girl felt all of this as she stumbled through the woods in her curtain-culled mourning skirt. In a moment of hope it was as though her scent had torn like a cobweb and blown on the wind, shreds of it here and there, useless. The dogs lose her for a while.

This shred of luck and others like it are what propels The Outlander forwards, keeps the pages turning in the fear (rather than the thrill) of the hunt.

The girl, Mary Boulton, though she'll go by many a name and by none, is on the run.

Not an escaped slave as you might think, but a white girl. Nineteen years old and widowed by her own hand we find out in the first few pages. And pursued. Staying a few steps ahead of the red-headed twins as she races and stumbles through the Canadian wilderness in the first years of the twentieth century, it's no surprise that Mary Boulton has only a tenuous hold on her mind.

Then again, the voices are nothing new. They have always been there.

To say any more of the plot would be to spoil one of the pleasures of this debut novel. Just one though. You could still sink yourself into Gil's poetic prose, lose yourself in the snowbound mountain woods, fear with the miners, and struggle hopefully with the townsfolk.

This is one of those rare pieces where the pages turn themselves, as you hope and fear the next development, without it actually being an all-action epic. In some ways it's reminiscent of Cold Mountain, in which the journey is the focus. Things happen. Then for periods things don't happen, but the journey continues. Or doesn't. Mary Boulton's journey is one of struggle and hiatus. There are interludes, when it seems that for a time all will be well, and maybe her life will take another turn: still a harsh and hard one, but one with more hope and reason.

It gives nothing away to say that such hopes are fragile.

The plot twists, as any hunt-story must, but it does so like a mountain trail rather than a switchback fair-ride. Most times (not always) the turns are signalled and lie in brooding wait rather than hitting hard and sudden. Most times it isn't the turn itself that surprises, but its impact and consequences that intrigue.

The characters rise off the page and challenge you to disbelieve them. The rich old widow, who takes in waifs and strays as much to give the gossips fodder as to assuage her own conscience, is loved and protected by those with a firmer grip on her affections and her hearth. The Ridgerunner is a mountain recluse living by his own moral code, for the want of being able to bend to another. Then there are the miners, severe and superstitious as any danger-labouring man. A small community served as best as the individuals can manage by the haphazard Minister struggling single-handed to build a church they don't yet know they need and the dwarf shop-keeper, with his tented emporium of needs and desires, a sharp eye for a business opportunity, but as protective an eye over his flock as the Reverend should have.

That those Mary meets should be such a bunch of misfits and eccentrics speaks volumes of the terrain in which the novel is set. The title would have worked as well as The Outland, dropping the –er. For all its mystery, suspense, struggle-against-personal-demons central theme, it is hard not to read it also as an elegy for a place, and for a way of life.

Not a way of life long gone, but one which scarcely ever existed in the first place.

There are those who chose the empty places, for whatever reasons, and from the empathy for them shown in this work one has to assume that Gil would count herself among them. Certainly, she shows a keen awareness of the struggles man makes against the land, and the way the land might assist, but will every now and then decide to fight right back.


I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For more tales from the north try The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney, or for a more up-to-date standpoint try Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay.

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Buy The Outlander by Gil Adamson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Outlander by Gil Adamson at


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