Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
This is one of those books whose reputation precedes them. I've heard this mentioned over and over in romance forums and also from my fellow authors that I knew I had to check it out. Going in I already had so many questions boggling my mind. How did the time travel work in this world? How is it seamed into the contemporary world of the 1940s? How can the heroine, who is already married, run off and marry some dude from the past and brush off her husband?
I was pleasantly surprised as I read through the book. Not only was it engrossing, it was also entertaining. Normally I don't read ginormous tomes as my time is pretty limited. I have to admit once I started on the first few chapters, I kept lamenting over how many pages I had to go to even make a dent in this book. But soon as I kept reading Outlander, I didn't want to stop and my progress didn't matter (although it's still fun to keep track) as much as I wanted to know the characters and their story.
Many have called this a romance even liking it to a Harlequin book. Far from. I like HQN, but this isn't it. To me this is historical fiction with a romantic as a backdrop. Normally a romance would be centered around the hero and heroine who are shown right from the beginning and the relationship is the focus. This book is so much more. It's an adventure, a historical, a family saga, but most of all it's a fabulous tale that spans the ages.
The story begins in 1940s Scotland shortly after WWII. Claire is on her second honeymoon accompanying her husband Frank to the highlands of Scotland on a research trip after spending time away serving as a wartime nurse. During their highland travels, Frank traces his family lineage and much of the traditions and history of Scotland is revealed through their finds. Looking back, some of it is a great setup for what we are shown through Claire's journey back in time.
During one of her walks, Claire runs into a mysterious stone circle with ancient elements called Craigh Na Dun. There her journey truly begins.
I really got into the world and found myself fascinated as Clare was. Gabaldon writes the story as a well researched adventure. I cringed at the harsh punishments and somewhat wild nature of the time. The author really showed the world contrasted from 40s Scotland from the clothing and style, right down to the speech patterns of the people who lived there. It didn't bother me to read the accents and the author's voice is so strong that I could hear their voices (even Claire's) clearly in my head.
I can see why the 'hero' of the story, Jamie Fraser, is well loved by many readers. He's a romantic, eager, noble and honorable character with a complexity that is rarely explored in novels. The fact that he was a virginal hero made it all the more interesting and even more rare. There's a rawness about Jamie and his developing feelings for Claire.
I love the way Gabaldon shows the very basic human emotions in a way that the reader identifies and sympathizes with exactly what the character is going through. It clashes with his moments of outrage and then brings us right around to sympathy when we learn of his upbringing. This character skill is matched only by the author's amazing descriptions of time and setting that makes the reader feel as if they are right there in the middle of the story with the characters. Jamie is considered by most to be 'perfect' and in a lot of ways he is as we see how he speaks straight from the heart. Despite what he has seen in his life, he is consumed by the life for his wife which brings out the strong romantic hero in him. But he is very much with flaws due to his anger and stubbornness. Gabaldon gives enough of this complexity to make him real without going over the top.
That said, I'd have to say the antagonist in this piece Captain Jack Randall is a revolting character and is probably one of the most evil and complex villains I've come across in my reading. Kudos to the author for throwing in the twist in connection with Claire's (first) husband. The description when Claire meets him and is subject to his cruelties (which was pretty gut wrenching) was all the more disturbing as she realizes the man before her bared much resemblance to her husband though very much lacking his warmth and sensitivity. This reader felt empathetic to Claire's shocking situation because it was universally human. I couldn't wait until Randall got his comeuppance and wanted so much for it to be at the hands of either Jamie or Claire.
Before I read Outlander I heard about a certain scene that made me cringe right away. Let me tell you it was nothing compared to reading the ordeal it had on the character during and after. It had been a long time before since a book had me in years and I was definitely sympathizing here. I was confused when it was 're-enacted' and was still thinking of it the next day as I realized the depths one would go to bring someone they love from mental anguish.
Normally I don't like first person because it traps the audience in the main character's mind and feels so limiting. I didn't have this problem with Outlander. Claire is a very intelligent and perceptive woman and the way she describes other characters, you get a picture of who and how they are right away. Especially with Jamie's character you know exactly what he's thinking and how he's feeling even in the moments where he dismisses his feelings or tries to hide them. I love his storytelling scenes because they add so much to his character and we see where he's coming from.
There are some pretty sensual love scenes in here. Not in the sense of being crass or crude but very sensual and sexy while being highly emotional. I prefer sensual romance over erotica and the scenes were effective in showing how the characters were feeling during the act indeed. They were raw with passion because they are described as very human and universal in their impact. Never did I feel it was there just to stimulate the audience.
It'd be interesting to see Outlander on the big screen. There's currently talk of a movie in the works with the screenplay already written and various filmmakers being offered the director role. Big name actors are being thrown around in what seems like their star quality rather than the ability to bring the character to life.
While wandering on the Amazon boards, I saw some suggestions and the ones that stood out in my mind were Alexa Davalos for Claire Fraser (she definitely looks like how I kinda imagined her). I'd pick Garrett Hedlund for Jamie Fraser. When I saw him, he was eerily the closest to how I imagined him in my mind. No joke. He already has the height and with the added muscle, Scottish accent there's our massive three and twenty year old Highlander.
In the end, Outlander is 600 page tome and the start of an ongoing series. I'm not sure how it'll translate to a two and half hour movie. I'd rather see it as a BBC mini-series which, I have a feeling, will give it the treatment it deserves while being faithful to the source material. With readers who have spent many years with the series, it's a bit of gamble especially since many of the hardcore readers are certainly invested.
All in all I LOVE this book. It's been a while since I read a book where I can really lose myself in the setting, characters and story and Outlander hit all the right spots. This is definitely going on my keeper shelf to reread over and over again. I can't wait to dive into the next book!