not a member? click here to sign up
She made her reputation as a poet but Gil Adamson’s debut novel is no work of high-flying lyricism. Instead, it’s a gritty morality fable set in the Canadian wild frontier. She talks about making the transition from poetry to bloody reality.
Anne Sexton, 25 Feb 2009
When poet Gil Adamson sat down to write her debut novel she had no idea no long it was going to take, or what exactly would happen in the story either.
Set in Canada’s western frontier around the Rocky Mountains at the beginning of the twentieth century, The Outlander is the story of Mary Boulton’s desperate escape into the mountains as she tries to evade retribution for killing her husband.
“I wrote the book from beginning to end, one step at a time. At any given moment I didn’t know what was coming next,” she says.
The Outlander was ten years in the writing. This slow pace Adamson attributes to “a poet’s selfish desire to control the language.” Adamson’s prose does indeed have a poetic quality and The Outlander is a beautifully crafted story. Adamson draws on a variety of genres, most notably the literary Western in the vein of Cormac McCarthy and fairy tale, but the story of Mary’s desperate flight has the same immediacy as a thriller.
“I was thinking of Western literature and passively about the fairy tale as I wanted a bit of magic in there, but I was surprised that people regarded it as a thriller because I never had any intention of it being like that,” says Adamson. But she notes, “I’m very glad that it is – that people find it compelling.”
The Outlander explores the idea of guilt, retribution and redemption. Mary’s guilt is central to her character. Her husband is an unpleasant creation, but Adamson is careful not to make him so beastly that his killing is justified and thus avoids turning the novel into a feminist polemic.
“That was important to me that he not be a wife-beater or so terrible. He was probably a horrible person to live with but it was the confluence of many things, the loss of many, many things in her life that produced a madness in her. The madness led to an act that she can’t explain and that she can’t outrun. In a strange way it was a bit of a meditation on culpability – what happens when you’ve done something bad and it is irreparable?”