Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book #36: 'Outlander' by Diana Gabaldon

Let's get right into it:

It's 1945. Claire Randall and her husband Frank are taking a second honeymoon in Scotland, attempting to reconnect after the War. One day, Claire goes exploring a nearby stone circle, funky stuff happens and suddenly she finds herself stuck in 18th Century Scotland. Awesomeness ensues.

Claire takes up with a group of Highlanders who take her along with them to their castle, suspecting she's some kind of English spy. So Claire has to adapt to this bizarre situation while trying to find a way to return to her own time and her husband. She meets the dashing Jamie Fraser, an outlaw whom she is later forced to marry and eventually falls madly in love with. Then she doesn't want to go back, so much.

Then a lot of stuff happens. A lot. This is a 900 page whopper, and thankfully Gabaldon is a skillful enough writer to know how to keep things going, so that you never quite want the book to end. Gabaldon has obviously done an exhaustive amount of research into 18th Century Scotland, and it's this that makes this book so damn entrancing. It's incredibly detailed, on everything from Scottish history and folk traditions to herbal medicine and 18th century swordfighting techniques. And it's all wrapped around a fast-paced plot with a huge cast of well-drawn characters. And lots of sex.

See, this is in essence a historical romance. Claire and Jamie are the absolutely most perfect couple in the universe. Their love is dictated by the stars, souls entwined, MFEO and all that happy stuff that could get nauseating pretty easily if Gabaldon wasn't so hilarious about it. Claire is a great character; she's funny and stubborn, kept from being completely perfect by the fact that she just doesn't think stuff through sometimes. She keeps just...not listening to anyone and getting in trouble, but that's OK because Jamie's always there to save her. Don't get me wrong, she's not a helpless little flower. In fact, she's pretty damn strong and brave, but she's just kind of stupid sometimes, and has a big mouth. If only she'd just listen to Jamie. Perfect, perfect Jamie. The guy is the most perfectly heroic (yet flawed! sort of!) leading man I have ever read about. He's a ridiculously handsome Highlander, for crying out loud. He's heroic, smart, romantic, hilarious and (of course) a sex machine. He just constantly wants to get freaky with Claire. Because she's so perfect and what not. I know it sounds ridiculous, and it is, but their relationship is strangely compelling, and Gabaldon loves the characters too much to make them sappy and annoying. But oh, god, the sex scenes. They are just too much. Here, let me quote:

"Aye, beg me for mercy, Sassenach [that's what he calls Claire]. Ye shallna have it, though; not yet"...

"Aye Sassenach," he muttered, answering my movements rather than my words. "Ride ye I will!"

Hee. Hee hee hee. Oh man, it's just priceless. I really can't emphasize enough how perfect it all is. And it just doesn't stop! Every time they have sex it's all galaxies exploding and astronomical levels of pleasure and it's just perfect.

That, along with the constant battles and rescues, the graphic violence scenes, the wolves, the evil british soldiers, the witch trials, the most perverted villain ever (who, amazingly enough looks exactly like Frank Randall!) and the historical detail make this one of the most fun things I have ever read. I don't see how you couldn't enjoy the hell out of it.

There are some problems, of course. Or rather, some minor annoyances. The first is that, by focusing almost entirely on Claire and Jamie (and by telling the story from Claire's point of view), Gabaldon has to have everything happen to the two of them. And I mean everything. Anything bad that could happen to you in the 18th century happens to them. They get shot, stabbed, trampled, beat up, burnt, flogged, nailed, poisoned, almost hung, almost burnt, almost raped, raped, butt raped, attacked by wolves, bludgeoned, get hit with axes...

And this is only the first book of the series! Not that it's not entertaining, but it's just kind of ridiculous the amount of times that these two almost get killed or shot or almost raped or raped or kidnapped and then rescued. While you're reading, it's pretty fun, but once you're done and you think back at everything that's happened you realize that it's kind of over-the-top. Good thing it's so much fun.

The second thing is that, well, Gabaldon seems to be obsessed with rape. There are no fewer than 3 attempts at rape in this book, plus stories of people who were raped, or almost raped, or characters who want to rape someone else. It's kind of bizarre. I'm sure it was a common problem in the 18th century, but it's kind of amazing that everyone who comes up to Claire seems to want to rape her. And sometimes the sex with Jamie goes weirdly into this submission/domination place that's just uncomfortable to read. It's, of course, pretty horrible to read, and an effective part of the story, but I wish it wasn't mentioned so damn much. Don't even get me started of the sincerely messed-up scenes with Jamie and Captain Randall. Those are beyond weird.

But aside from that, this is a pretty solid book, and a great start to the series. It makes you want to pick up the next book immediately. It's very emotional, violent and beautifully detailed. Think Rob Roy with a lot more sex and a red-headed Liam Neeson. I don't doubt that she's watched Rob Roy obsessively.

I like when you can tell that a writer enjoyed the hell out of writing a book, and Gabaldon obviously did with this one. It's addictive, really, and I had to stop after book #3 to write this thing without tainting my memories of it too much. So far, the story's holding up pretty well, though I hear the next books aren't as good. We'll see. I promise that my reviews, at least, will be much shorter. I just had a lot to say about this one.

1 comment:

Kris said...

I loved this one... A juicy well-written bodice ripper. The perfect beach read. The next two are okay, and then by the fourth it's just a lot of blathering nonsense....

Sort of like Pillars of the Earth, absolutely ridiculous, but also very awesome!!!!!