Saturday, September 9, 2017

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

As of 09/09/17, this book is $1.99 for the Kindle edition!

I read this book for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2017 Reading Challenge. For more info about what this is, click here.

I'm proud to say that I read this book before it became a TV series. I was in college, and checked out the weighty hardcover edition from the stacks on the third floor, along with several Anne Rice books and Sheri S. Teper's BEAUTY. That was about seven years ago, and I found myself thinking about the series again recently because my library recently purchased the entire series in honor of the television show. I wanted to read the others, but couldn't remember anything apart from the fact that Claire was a doctor, something about a witch trial, and the hideous rape/torture scene towards the end that still haunts me all these years later. I'm half-tempted to start a petition to call for Diana Gabaldon to rewrite OUTLANDER so that a certain someone dies a horrible death. It's even worse in the TV show. I saw a clip, and I don't think I'll be watching that. It's like torture porn. No, thanks.

For the past week I've been reading OUTLANDER, this book has been an emotional blackhole, slowly draining away all my feelings and leaving only despair. It's a very slow start, with Claire and her husband in the Scottish countryside, taking a bit of a break in the terrible aftermath of WWII, which they have both been affected by (especially Claire who, as a nurse, has seen some terrible things). Then, one day, Claire touches a set of standing stones and gets sucked back into 18th century Scotland, just before the battle of Culloden, and ends up encountering a highlander named Jamie Fraser.


Gabaldon tortures her characters with an enthusiasm that you don't really see anymore in romance novels. This is very much like those 1970s bodice rippers, where everything goes to sh*t, and the story is less about love and affection and whimsy than it is about sacrifice and struggles and giving up everything - and I mean everything - to fight tooth and claw for a person who might do terrible things but is your soulmate, for better or for worse. Two similar authors I could name are Rosemary Rogers and George R. R. Martin. Rosemary Rogers has these alpha heroes who might not fit into the modern idea of "perfect man" but are appealing because of their incredible charisma, bravery, and sacrifices that they make of the heroine. The relationships are often fraught with love and hate, and there's almost always some gruesome act of torture in the third act (in two of the books of hers that I've read, these, like OUTLANDER, also involved brutal whippings). And I think the comparison to George R R. Martin should be obvious - even though this is a romance, it's set in a time filled with battles and unrest, so scheming abounds, and ignorance has caused people to rely on superstitions and folklore, as well as a suspicion of foreigners, and especially strange foreign women.

Some of the darker moments are the rape/torture scene towards the end, the story of Jamie's flogging, the scene when Jamie beats Claire with a belt, and of course, the witch trial scene. Interspersed with these moments (they are spaced out, thank God) are lighter scenes. I think my favorite was the wedding scene, when Jamie's all dressed up to the nines and says, all sly, "Your servant, Ma'am." I just about died. Also, when he tells Claire that he's a virgin. That was also super cute. The cute scenes were like salve on the emotional savaging that the other stuff caused. I can definitely understand why some of those darker scenes I mentioned put people off reading this, and I'm surprised that people seem more upset about the belt than the rape. For me, I found that devastating, and felt so, so sorry for Jamie. The beating was not cool, and it was weird that they joked about it later, but it's a sad fact that that was a common way that men interacted with women at the time. That does not make it right, but Jamie was not trying to break Claire when he did it, whereas the rape scene was a deliberate attempt to demean, humiliate, and destroy, which made it so much worse to read about, for me.

I found this article by Vulture called Diana Gabaldon on Why Outlander Isn’t Really a Romance and Writing Her First Episode, and apparently she resisted the romance category because it "will never be reviewed by the New York Times or any other respectable literary venue" and "will cut off the entire male half of my readership," and I am side-eying the hell out of that because (1) So? and (2) SO? Honestly, I'm just about done with all the opinion pieces about What Men Think About X Female Thing. We've been hearing about what men think since thinking first became a public matter, and if *some* men are so terrified of catching cooties from a book jacket that they're willing to forgo an otherwise perfectly good book, well, then, that's their problem, and they can read all the Heinlein and Martin they want. The only thing separating Game of Thrones from a bodice ripper is literally just the packaging and the title. Call it DRAGON'S RAPTURE* and slap on a shirtless Jon Snow cradling a svelte Daenerys Targaryen in a too-tight bodice and ergo, you have a fantasy bodice ripper.


Regardless of what the author says about her book (she's free to say whatever she wants about it - it is her book), I consider this a romance, through and through, because the focus is on the love story of Jamie and Claire, as they fight to be together against all odds. The setting is beautiful, practically a character on its own, and was extra special to me, because I've been to so many places mentioned here: Culloden battlefield, Inverness, Urquhart Castle. I've also gone horseback riding on the Black Isle and been to Fort George in Ardersier. Scotland is incredibly beautiful and feels wild in a way that the U.S. does not. I had the same impression when I went to Japan, and saw Hakone and Meiji forest. They haven't curbed and domesticated their wilderness and paved over history in the same way that us Americans have; it still feels wild and magical and dangerous there, which adds to the appeal. This was a really great epic romance done in the old style and I recommend it to anyone who likes that sort of thing, particularly if you're a fan of the older romance authors like Rosemary Rogers.

*P.S. Somebody with more talent than I have needs to make a mock-up of that DRAGON'S RAPTURE cover. I could use a laugh after having all my feelings demolished.

5 out of 5 stars

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