Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Okay, this is not my usual type of book. In fact, I have been resisting reading it for well over a decade. But by now at least a dozen people had highly recommended it so I finally caved. I had a couple of cross-country flights and could definitely use a 800+ page mass market. And it wasn’t half-bad, even though I still am not a romance fan.

For those very, very few who (like me until last week) are unfamiliar, here’s the basic plot:
It is 1945 and Claire and her husband Frank are reconnecting after the war. While he was off fighting, she had been a nurse. To get away from the destruction of London and to indulge Frank’s love of genealogy, they have taken a trip to Scotland. While there and looking around a henge (turns out Stonehenge isn’t the only one!), Claire touches a split rock, and finds herself in 1743. Claire’s Englishness, not to mention her modern dress puts her immediately in danger. She is rescued by a band of Scots and she’s able to earn their begrudging trust with her medical skills. Then there are 700 more pages of battles, intrigue, romance, misunderstandings, arrests, sex, odd historical facts, last-minute rescues, a witchcraft trial, more romance, and more sex. She meets the irascible Jamie who she is irresistibly drawn towards, though she is torn due to her loyalty to Frank, even knowing she may never see him again.

Outlander was a lot more interesting than I had anticipated. It’s well-written, well-researched, full of local and era-appropriate character. Yet I really appreciated that some of the language was just as foreign to Claire as to us and she’d often think it to herself and wonder what a chirurgeon is, for example. I liked that she was so knowledgeable not only in medicine but in plants and herbs which was able to basically save her life more than once, as she was able to prove useful to the various people who took in this penniless woman with no family and a sketchy back-story. This is not a time or a history I was familiar with so it was a nice refresher to be reminded of Bonny Prince Charles and I liked that it’s not an over-done time period (like say, the court of King Henry VIII). The action was certainly suspenseful and moved along quickly. But personally, I preferred the quieter periods, when she was setting up her medical clinic at the castle, or later the everyday life at Lallybroch. For me those parts were too short. Particularly as the constant violence and danger after a while became rather eye-rolling to me. Additionally when every few pages Claire and Jamie would look ravishingly at each other and feel a warm flush from their nether regions, I’d sigh and wonder if this time he was going to take her in the stable or in a haystack. I know that most romance readers read these books for precisely these scenes but as that’s not of great interest to me (as a reader!), I found the frequency and detail of the sex scenes a bit boring after a while. They even distracted from the plot sometimes. It didn’t bother me at first, more towards the end, when the accumulation was getting to be a bit much.

Still, I did know it was a romance, and this is to be expected. Overall, I did like it quite a bit. It was great escapist reading, and for lovers of historical romances, this is really a truly fantastic example of the genre. But personally, I won’t be reading the rest of the series. (Seriously, there are like 7 books, each at over 800 pages, and it’s not even done yet!) Though I was intrigued enough by the characters to go online and read the descriptions of all the subsequent books to find out what happens to them. A great beach read.


Kristen said...

I'm glad you liked it, even if you won't be reading further. Honestly, I do think it's the best of the series so it's not vital you continue really.

Sarah at SmallWorld said...

I am one of the few people who is NOT on the Outlander bandwagon. I thought it was just OK and was definitely not interested in reading the rest of the series.

Christina T said...

Nice review. I really liked Outlander and I read the following two books but had a more difficult time enjoying them because they seemed to drag. I agree with you about the steamy scenes and wish that it had been kept to a minimum. I may someday go back and read the rest of the series.

Jessica Daitch said...

I am not surprised you aren't reading further. You are very grounded.

Still, this is one of the best romantic series ever written and most people who like the book (or LOVE IT) wish Jamie were their actual husband. He's just so in touch with who he is as a person. The steamy scenes are essential because they demonstrate how the strength of their love. I can't believe you don't want to know what happens next!

PS -- Outlander steamy scenes are fairly mild compared to a lot of other stuff, I've read.

Booksnyc said...

A friend raved to me about this series recently but I the 700+ pages per book intimidates me. Maybe if I could read for long periods of time at one sitting - such as on vacation - I would take it on!

Whitney said...

I have yet to join the Outlander bandwagon; although I've had half a dozen people recommend it to me as well. Nice review.

Anonymous said...

I read all the books in the series and loved them all. The genre is difficult to categorize as it is not precisely a romance. In fact it is the historical setting(s) that I loved most. True the romance between Claire & Jamie is the major plotline, it doesn't overpower the story. Each book moves you to a new place in history. I felt like I was there.

Danmark said...

Outlander is the kind of book that you pick up and just can't put down until you are completely done. Of course, once you are done, you'll immediately want to rush and get "Dragonfly in Amber", etc...this series is absolutely addictive!
Gabaldon's first book is a wonderful time travel adventure where Claire Randall, a 20th century woman, is transported to 18th century Scotland. As can be expected, this causes more than a bit of "jet lag" and Claire gets a crash course in how different the world was before things such as modern medicine, women's lib, and fair trials for accused witches.