Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
Before reading this book I heard a *lot* about it. A lot of hype, a lot of hate, and a lot of strong opinions. So I came into this book with quite a few expectations. Yet Outlander somehow managed to side-step them all.
The main surprise for me was that Outlander is almost equal parts historical fiction, romance, and fantasy. This will likely appeal to fans of Phillipa Gregory in the way it uses a historical background as a backdrop for some seriously graphic romantic sequences. Fans of Ken Follett may appreciate the sweeping scope of the series, though this book encompasses only about half a year. And, of course, time travel.
As far as historical fiction goes, the details and discriptions of this novel felt authentic and well-researched, while many of the plot elements seemed sensationalized for the sake of drama. There’s actually a nice meta-scene at one point where Claire acknowledges this, so at least it was purposefully done. Still, while I know the 1700s were not the most fun time to be a woman, being nearly raped by at least five different men in sixth months seemed QUITE the stretch. It made it hard for me to take the novel seriously, and I think this is in part why it often gets labeled more as romance than historical fiction.
Claire was so … stock. As was Jamie. There wasn’t anything particularly special or interesting about either of them, though they may have felt less cliche when the book was published. Actually, my main complaint about the two of them was their lack of chemistry. Considering just how much sex they have (and with what detail it was described), it was shocking how little they seemed to care about one another prior to having sex. At one point I remember Claire saying in her narration that he made her pulse race, but as the reader we never actually encounter this. I could have used some more … romance, strange as that sounds. I wanted to know that they loved each other, outside of them saying it (and continuously rescuing each other from increasingly absurd situations).
In addition, I felt like there was a lot of unnecessary happenings in this book. A lot “happens” without anything actually happening. I think the book could have been a full 200 pages shorter, if not more. There’s probably a full 50 pages of sex scenes, another 50-100 pages describing Claire giving medical treatment to people and their subsequent recoveries. And then there’s just daily routine, gardening, cooking, talking, that doesn’t really contribute anything. I enjoyed reading it, but considering how long this series is, the book could probably do with some trimming.
I personally did not care for the graphic violence or graphic sex. Or the graphically violent sex. While the idea of changing history is interesting enough to make me want to find out what happens in the rest of the series, the violence was off-putting enough that I can say for sure I will *not* be picking up the rest of the series.
Yet despite all of that, I found that I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. Aside from the last hundred pages, which just went on and on, I was constantly curious what was going to happen next. I was surprised just how quickly I finished this 650 page novel, and how much I liked it. I would definitely recommend to fans of historical epics who don’t mind graphic content.
As far as the feelings a lot of bloggers have about a potentially abusive relationship between Claire and Jamie, as well as their outrage surrounding Jamie, I will say only that I think in the context of the time period it takes place in, it’s about what you would expect. Jamie is certainly not a feminist, but I don’t think he is abusive. He’s just doing the only thing he knows that is right. I notice nobody was appalled that peopled beat their children with boards…