Monday, February 18, 2013

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

     Title: Outlander (Outlander #1)
     Author: Diana Gabaldon
     Publisher: Seal Books
     Published: January 1, 1991
     Number of Pages: 870
     Genre(s): Science Fiction, Romance, Historical Fiction
     Date Read: February 2006 (The 1st time...)
     Acquired: Chapters

The year is 1945, the Second World War has just ended and combat nurse Claire is finally reunited with her husband, historian and amateur genealogist (and former Army Officer) Frank Randall. They seek bliss and rest in the highlands of Inverness, Scotland so that Frank can do some family research on a descendant who was an Officer in the area back in the 1740s, before the start of his tenure as a History Professor at Oxford. Young and innocent they think they have the entire future together ahead of them, until curious Claire, unversed in the mysterious mythology of the standing stones of Scotland, goes exploring alone and disappears. 

Claire suddenly finds herself transported back through time, about 200 years back, because that's how all the legends go, to 1743, a dangerous time to be a British lady in the Scottish wilds where the border clans are at war with each other and with the British. As dangerous a place to be as the war she just finished surviving in 1945. She's confused, she's lost, she's least until she's picked up by a band of MacKenzie warriors on the run from the local British army regiment who save her from the Captain of said regiment, one Jack Randall... They take her in, believing her to be a British spy, and bring her to their laird for judgement. When he decides she's not an immediate threat they offer her protection, protection in the form of an arranged marriage to the young outlaw nephew of the laird, one Jamie Fraser, who Claire hasn't been able to keep her eyes off of since the moment she met him. She doesn't love him, she doesn't want to but she needs him. 

They begin their life together with Claire torn between her new reality and the reality she left behind, and a desire to return there. Things are going along as peacefully as one would expect from a war torn Scottish nation in the 1740s, until Captain Jack comes back into the picture. He seems to have a grudge against both Claire and Jamie, something that seems very personal. Can Claire learn to love Jamie? Can they come together enough to survive Black Jack? Or will she flee from Jamie the first chance she gets to try and get back to Frank?

I would like to start this review by saying, I like to consider this book as a stand-alone book and I would have been perfectly content to never have found out it was a series. I tried reading the second book and I just got very turned off by the willy-nilly back and forth of the characters travelling through times to multiple periods multiple times. I am very critical of time travel because it is really really hard to get right in a way that does not create glaring plot holes. I can pick out plot holes anywhere but present me with a time travel plot and I will find even a pin head sized plot hole that I then use to unravel the entire story, I've done it on several occasions thoroughly annoying people who genuinely enjoyed the story and never questioned the integrity of the plot. Just wanted to clear that up and let you all know why this review will make no reference to the rest of the series.

Back in 2006 I never would have willingly picked up a romance novel, not even if you paid me, and yet I actually paid hundreds of dollars for the privilege of reading this book, because I had to read it for an undergraduate English class. I will not lie, I have gotten out of required course readings I didn't think I would enjoy through various means in the past; like the time I didn't even crack the spine on The Tempest I just  based all my answers about the play on a combination of the very, very strange 3 man production of it I saw at The Globe, and Spark Notes. I was sorely tempted to do that with this book given the reading load I was faced with that particular semester and my distaste for romance novels. That was before I actually read the summary on the back, the minute I read the summary I had two thoughts, "Oh dear god time travel I am going to hate this even more than I would have if it was just a normal romance novel!" and "Ooooh 1700s Scottish Highlands! Swords and red heads, okay I'm done this book is getting read." Yup you tell me there will be sword play and I will read it, you tell me there will be sword play AND red heads (I have a thing for red heads in a big way, it has been known to lead to me embarrassing myself horribly...) and there's no way I won't read the book. It was actually about this time in 2006 that I read it because I spent my entire reading week glued to it, so that makes this week the 7th anniversary of me reading it for the first time, and since then I've read it about 10-12 more times, so that right there should tell you just how much I liked it.

I not only liked it, I loved it. With the exception of the first 39 pages. I was okay with those first 39 pages the first time I read it, but after finishing it the first time I'm not a big fan of Frank and just really don't want to read the part that he's in, so on most of the times I've re-read it I've started on the second half of page 39 and read from there.Did anyone else who has read it feel that way? Am I the only one here? For me the book really gets started in chapter 3, that's where Claire finds herself transported back to the 1700s and the fish out of water story really gets started. I'm so glad Diana gave Claire the characterisation that she did, because Claire's stoicism, strength, stubbornness and adaptability are what drive this story for me. If Claire had been the stereotypical romance heroine that I dreaded she would be when I heard I was going to have to read a romance novel I would have been crushed, but watching Claire grow into the role of a 1700s Scottish lady was nothing short of magical, by the end of the book I at least felt like Claire really belonged exactly where she was and I actually couldn't picture how she would fit into the WWII era world she had come from. 

Obviously I have to talk about her relationship with Jamie, the Hero of the novel, who numbers among my favourite literary red heads, can't really leave discussion of that relationship out. Diana's writing in this book is exquisite in my opinion, but I especially enjoyed her portrayal of the central romance in this couple, it was very realistically done. You have a heroine who is a "modern" woman coming back to the 1740s so of course there are going to be culture clashes, especially in the area of romance, and the clashes between Claire and Jamie are SPECTACULAR. Seemingly horrific, for obvious reasons, as Claire points out corporeal punishment is barbaric now a days (and even in 1945), but it was normal to Jamie, and honestly the way Diana handled the writing of it it comes across as more hilarious than horrific. For every moment of them blowing up at one another there are as many or more moment where you can just watch them slowly realise how much they love one another and that they really are quite well matched to one another in both personality and nature. Jamie is an impulsive, injury prone warrior and Claire is a responsible (usually), calm former combat nurse; which means that in the eyes of the Scots of the 1740s she's the best surgeon/doctor in existence. That becomes a bit of a running gag between the two. 

There are sex scenes, of course, it's a romance novel that's a given, but you don't read this novel for the sex scenes, or even just for the romance. There is an actual discernible and complex plot in this novel and it's just as important if not more important than Jamie and Claire's relationship, if only because of how intertwined the villain is to both Claire and Jamie as individuals and as a couple.

Since I'm being honest, I feel completely comfortable saying that in my opinion, this is one of the best and most well thought out and written books that I have ever read. And I have no doubt that I'll probably read it another 10-12 times in the next 7 years. Ask me again in 7 years and we'll see!


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