I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon--when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach--an "outlander"--in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life...and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
Let me say, right up front, that Diana Gabaldon is a good writer. I can see why so many women swoon over this series of novels, featuring Claire Randall, a twentieth-century woman transported back to sixteenth-century Scotland. I can also see very clearly why few men are attracted to the series.
To my way of thinking, this book is a romance novel, wrapped up in Time Travel paper with a Historical Fantasy ribbon. Yes, there is time travel and yes, there it is historical fantasy, but the meat of the thing is a romance novel.
It seems amazing to me that something published in 1990 is already dated. Several of the tropes used (and perfectly acceptable in 1990) are now rejected and reviled. [See some other reviews if you need/want details]. Socially-acceptable tropes have [maybe] moved along and Gabaldon might write things differently if she was just getting started in 2014.
Now, I must confess that I am not much of a romance reader. I read a few while I was in high school (way back in the days when the couple maybe kissed passionately at the end of the book), but pretty much abandoned that genre when I went to university and had so many other things to read. I didn’t see life around me playing out the way romance novels did and I was more interested in fiction that revolved around other parts of life and explored other ideas. Please note, I am not disparaging the romance genre! I consider it a perfectly legitimate form. It’s just not my major interest.
So, you think, why did I read this novel? Well, two reasons. Number 1, Diana Gabaldon will be a guest at a readers & writers conference that I will be attending in August and I wanted to have a clear idea about her writing before I participate. I’ll probably try to read at least the second book in the series before August. Number 2, I’m still working my way through the NPR list of great science fiction and fantasy literature, this being my 130th title in that endeavour. I’ve abandoned exactly two titles along the way in this quest and, unless something is really distasteful or boring, I’m reading it to the end & reviewing it. Outlander was quite entertaining and there was certainly no question but that I would finish it.
In fact, it reminded me a bit of the Perils of Pauline, with Claire being bumped from one scrape to another. When not being rescued by Jaime (though she does get to rescue him by book’s end), there are long stretches of descriptive boudoir scenes that bring the narrative to a halt. The entire plot alternates between bumping quickly along through emergencies and frequently stopping dead for a sex scene.
One other note—I know that the English language is never static. Claire is transported two centuries into the past. Shakespeare is only two centuries earlier than that. When you consider how difficult many modern people feel Shakespearean English is to understand, I can’t see that it would be as effortless as it is written for Claire to communicate with those around her. Gabaldon does have Claire use some modern expressions that are incomprehensible to the folk around her and she is sometimes confused by their terminology, but I suspect it would have been a major impediment in such a situation.
So, although not my cup of tea, I can see what the fuss is about. I understand that Outlander is currently being made into a TV series? I may even sneak a peek at it, if my library acquires it on DVD.