Author: Diana Gabaldon
Rating: 3 stars
Outlander, the seventh book I have read for the TBR pile challenge, almost broke me. It was by turns fascinating and frustrating, at least three hundred pages too long, sometimes a slog to get through and sometimes impossible to put down. I have such mixed feelings about this book, I’m not even quite sure where to start.
So how about a summary? In 1945, former combat nurse Claire Randall is on a second honeymoon with her husband, Frank, when she’s whisked through a portal of standing stones and ends up in 1743, where she finds herself in the crosshairs of a number of dangers, her only protection provided by a young Scottish laird, Jamie Fraser.
I recently watched the first half of the Starz Outlander series and found myself entranced by it. It was gorgeously shot, I loved the characters and the costumes and the music, and I was inspired to pick up the book. But now, knowing what I’m in for in the second half, I’m not sure I want to continue with the TV series. I definitely am not continuing on with the book series, for the very basic reason that I don’t have enough time in the world for all those pages.
My main issue, I think, is the narration. I found it impossible to like Claire, and I think that was primarily because of the use of first person. I didn’t have problems with her at all in the show. But first of all, in the book she is completely, utterly perfect. The woman travels two hundred years back in time and barely blinks. Almost immediately she’s able to pick up on proper etiquette, attire, and speech. Problems generated by her foreknowledge don’t appear for over four hundred pages, and when they finally do they are spurred by outside factors. Claire has copious medical knowledge, she has totally bonkers sex skillz, she can kill a wolf with her bare hands. You know. As you do.
So she’s perfect, and she’s kind of boring (even the bare-handed wolf killing was boring. Really!). She’s prone to really strange extremes of logic–deciding on one course, and then immediately and drastically reversing this. And for a first-person narrator she’s really extremely reluctant to undertake any sort of self-examination. It took hundreds of pages for her to say anything at all about the husband she left behind, and how that made her feel.
I really think the first person was totally, completely wrong for this book. So much of the plot relies on Claire conveniently hanging around doorways eavesdropping on conversations, and then misunderstanding what she hears. Which was frustrating.
My other big, big problem was the violence and rape.
Now, I’ve read plenty of books with violence and rape. A Song of Ice and Fire springs to mind. But again, I think the big problem for me was having this presented in first person. When I was watching the show, though things hadn’t quite reached the extent that they do in the second half of the book, I didn’t have much issue with the violence or rape. But in the book I found myself completely dreading what would come next. I also was not at all cool with how beating children and wives was presented as excusable, even looked on with nostalgic fondness. Yes, I am aware that in the past (and present) people beat their wives. No, you can not have the hero of your book beat his wife and then expect me to look at him and swoon about how charming he is, no matter how much you try to explain it away. I was expecting Jamie to be this completely romantic figure, and instead for more than half of the book he gave me serious skeevies. He repeatedly calls his own sister a whore, and even this is chalked up to “Scottish stubbornness.” Fuck that noise.
So, what did I like? Well, the whole conceit of the double-historical novel was fascinating to me. I liked learning about a time and place that I knew little about. I liked most of the characters most of the time–outside of Claire (oops). And the writing wasn’t bad, just overly long and in the wrong POV.
I think what I enjoyed most about this book was the possibilities-the roads it could have gone down. Where it was lacking for me was in the execution. I’m tempted to do a wikisearch about the series just to get the rundown of the plot without having to slog through eight massive books, or whatever it is. Because I am interested to see where it might go.
I’m glad that I read Outlander because I like to have reference points in pop culture even when I don’t have the entire experience, but once was definitely enough.