Book Review

The Outlander by Gil Adamson

i've found my local indie press

A few days ago, my lover and I wandered slightly further than usual on our daily dog walk (like three blocks north) when – all of a sudden, ten minutes on from the park we visit four or five times a week – we arrived at a little hipstery exclave in the middle of an industrial estate. There’s a gorgeous, old, skyscraper that has a contemporary art museum in it, there are loads of lorries, a hip events space, a microbrewery and – right next to the massive Nestle factory – the offices of Canada’s biggest independent press and their affiliate one-brand-only bookstore, House of Anansi.

I hadn’t heard of this publisher before, but it became clear very soon that House of Anansi is basically the Canadian equivalent of Faber & Faber: a respected, literary publisher of many proper global A list writers, both Canadian ones and international.

Anansi is the publisher, for example, of Margaret Atwood, as well as numerous other Booker winners and near-winners, and it publishes the transcripts of CBC’s Massey Lectures, the Canadian version of the Reith lectures.

Anansi is established and respected, and they also have a lot of books available that I’d never heard of before, many of which looked fucking amazing. I could have spent a lot of money in that bookshop, and I probably will over the coming months. The first book I found and was drawn to was this, The Outlander by Gil Adamson, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s from House of Anansi’s ‘A List’, the books they’ve published that they’re most proud of, and having read it, I understand why. This 2007 literary novel is exciting, intelligent, evocative and emotive: it does everything good fiction is meant to do, and it does it excellently.

///

Much later:

So yeah, House of Anansi is a great little press, will go back and spend more money there soon, etc etc..

I got distracted from writing about this book due to my excitement about its publisher lol. Classic me, tho usually I’m distracted by things happening in my own life.

Had a few good things happen with writing recently, nothing life-changing but I have an uncharacteristic optimism this week, which is a lovely thing to have. I’m sure the optimism will soon fade and be replaced by the dark dark pitch black opaque pessimism that is the usual state of my soul. I think also, in part, my positivity comes from the fact that – because I’m not taking an ad hoc holiday this month – I’m in a better financial situation than I have been since I quit my last regular job in April lol. Who’d have thought that very slight money worries fade to nothing if you work more and holiday less lolololol????

That holiday last month, though, is the reason why I was so drawn to The Outlander in that bookstore a couple of weeks ago. That novel is, like my holiday was, set in the Rockies, in Alberta, and (like my holiday) there are beautiful landscapes and many wild animals and a little bit of romance.

The outlander is about Mary Boulton, a woman who – to quote the book – is recently “widowed by her own hand” and is on the run. Mary is young and she killed her cheating, abusive husband and didn’t do anything to hide the body. Her dead husband’s giant-like brothers are chasing her down with the unrelenting desire to have her convicted and hanged in a courtroom. The novel is a trad cat-and-mouse-narrative in some respects, but it is a trad cat-and-mouse-narrative with real excitement, engaging characters and pleasing twists and turns of plot. 

Mary hides for a bit with an old woman who has spent her widowhood taking in lonely and endangered women like Mary, before her brother-in-laws get too close and she has to skip out. She finds a handsome woodsman in the mountains and they steamily hook up for a bit until he gets cold feet after almost two decades of solitude and she then, alone, finds her way to a First Nations camp where a white woman who had married into the tribe helps her. From there, she goes to a small mining town up in the mountains, and it is here where the majority of the novel takes places. Here, far away from home, Mary rebuilds herself, finding a community and a sense of usefulness. Of course, her past catches up, which the reader sees happening in regular, short, sections that shift the third-person perspective close to the brothers or the hunky woodsman.

There’s violence and peril, wild animals and mines, precarious rope bridges and deceit and treachery and jealousy and sex: it’s almost a box-ticking success of a novel, though it doesn’t feel cynical. The Outlander is an exciting and engaging narrative set at the start of the 20th-century but in a part of the “Western World” far from urban sprawl, though not far from the destructive repercussions of humanity’s material hunger. 

It’s a great novel and a joy to read. I’d have to say……… I liked it a lot.


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