Saturday, October 1, 2011

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon was much better than I expected

Have you ever had the experience of trying to read a book and just not be able to get into it?  Everybody says it is amazing, a page turner, couldn’t put it down but you just didn’t get what all the hype was about.  I have.  There are actually two books in my lifetime that for all the peer pressure and actual attempts to read them I just couldn’t get into them.  From the title of this post you know “Outlander is one of them.  The other, (Please don’t groan or chastise me…that includes you Debbie), is “Gone With the Wind.”  The problem with GWTW is I don’t care enough about the characters.  I think Scarlett is a brat and what’s his face, Ashley is so, effeminate.  Lesley Howard in the movie didn’t improve my opinion either.  Rhett I liked but, for a guy who could have anyone but is hopelessly in love with such a b**ch is beyond me.  I digress, I will think about this another day.  Sorry Debbie.
When Outlander first came out back in the 1991 I tried to read it.  Over the years I tried 3 more times to no avail. I love a great epic novel.  Katherine by Anya Seton is in my top ten favorites not to mention Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  I couldn’t get past the first 60 pages of Outlander.  Frank and Claire bored me to tears.  I didn’t care what happened to them.  Frank was milquetoast and Claire was almost masculine.
Another thing that really turned me off was the time-travel plotline.  I am not a big fan of time travel stories.  They don’t feel plausible and someone has to give up all they hold dear to stay in the other time including family and friends.  It feels way too final for me.  It is worse when they go back and forth in time.  I know this is going to sound crazy coming from a huge paranormal fan but time travel is just too unbelievable for me.  In Outlander it really bugged me how comfortable 20th century Claire felt in 18th Century Scotland.  Granted she was raised by a historian/archeologist and married a historian/genealogist so she wasn’t unfamiliar with the time period but come on, there is a huge difference between reading about cooking in fireplaces and witch burnings and actually using one and being a potential victim to the other. It is too complicated a subject to believably portray.
The final thing was the fact that she was married and in love with Frank in the 20th Century but so easily fell for Jaimie in the 18th.  Granted Jaime is hot.  (Makes me think of Liam Neeson in Rob Roy).  He is big, redheaded, muscular and speaks with a brogue.  I would want him too. I just didn’t see how Claire would be able to reconcile the two relationships.  I don’t think I would so easily get over my husband, be he dead or I was thrust into another time period.  Claire was really quick to jump into bed with Jaimie.  I know in the first hateful 60 pages I learn that Frank and Claire have been separated by duty to the War Effort during WWII.  She as a triage nurse just behind the lines and he in the defense department doing who knows what.   They were reacquainting themselves when she tripped through the stone ring but still…
By now you realize I finally bit the bullet and read the dang thing.  It is my sister Kate’s fault and as begrudging as this may sound I am glad she can be a pushy little thing sometimes.  I bought it through B&N for my Nook so I would have something to keep me busy while I helped my son and daughter in law with the new baby.  (You had to know I would work in the new Grandma status).  I had nothing eDSCN1119lse to do but hold my new best guy in one arm while I clicked through pages with the other.  The first 60 pages were still hell.  In fact, the first 150 pages were as boring as an algebra text book but I am Irish and I will pit my stubborn against a Scot’s stubborn any day and kept reading.  The story only improved slightly when Claire went through the stones.  Maybe it is because I have read so many other epic fantasy novels this felt a little predictable.  Damsel immediately encounters villain to be just as quickly rescued by the good guy.  Well in this case the good guys.  She helps the young and badly injured hero and they make tracks for their highland home.  I have been here and done this.  I kept reading and it got better.
Here is why this is a good read.  Letting go of the prejudging I did before I opened it for the 4th time I discovered I was enjoying this story.  The characters are complete and finely detailed.  The location is well studied and described.  I smelled the horse manure in the stable.  I felt the punches when Jaimie took Loghaire’s punishment.  I marvelled at how much folk medicine is really based in solid knowledge.  I so wanted to swim in the mineral water bath. But the biggest reason this is a good read is Captain John Randall.  He is probably the greatest villain of all time!  I kept reading because I had to know if he ever got repaid for the crimes he committed against everyone he ever came in contact with.  What he does to Jaimie is nothing less than Jeffrey Dahmer disgusting.  Jaimie's retelling of the final debauchery done to him was nothing short of masterful.  I felt all of his pain and debasement.  It is so heinous that when Randall's end came I cheered and was pissed all at the same time.  He deserved a much more ignominious death than Ms. Gabaldon gave him. It is almost unbelievable that Jaimie survived not just in body but in soul as well.  I think I would have killed myself regardless of how much the love of my life wanted me to fight. 
I admit it, this book was totally worth the work.  I definitely think some text could have been dropped. This is a lot of words. I think Dougal and Collum took up more pages than they were worth.  The young Loghaire wasn’t worth Claire’s first twinge of jealousy.  I did love Geilie but even some of her story dragged.  In the end it was satisfying and I am glad we all made it through.
I know there are several sequels to Outlander but I think I am going to leave Claire in the 18th century with her future still an unknown.  Maybe I will give Gone With the Wind another try.  I know it would totally make Debbie’s day!

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