Special Review: My love for Outlander

Monday, July 11, 2011

Books are like every other art form in that they're analyzed subjectively. My experience of a book will never be exactly the same as anyone else's. Sometimes I love a book, sometimes I hate it, and sometimes (perhaps worst of all) a book can fail to inspire any feelings in me whatsoever.

This is not the case with Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.

I actually stumbled across this book through a routine Barnes & Noble visit. I wandered the stacks, seeing what caught my eye, and saw that now-oh-so-familiar large format blue cover on an end display:

Book: Outlander
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Publisher: Delta
Release date: August 10, 1998
(first published 1991)
Source: Bought

Summary: (from Goodreads) 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.

The summary convinced me that this was a book I needed to have. Romance, time travel, adventure - I was sold. I loved that it was time travel between two different historical time periods. Not only did Gabaldon have to research 1945 England and Scotland, but also 1743. I get to read about a woman in the past, who travels even farther back into the past? Done.

As with many, many books that I buy (especially impulse purchases), the book then sat on my shelf for months. In fact, I had very nearly forgotten about it, until a coworker mentioned it to me. Also an avid reader, Erin was chatting with me about our latest and greatest reads, and told me she thought I'd like a little book called Outlander.

When I told her I actually had a copy that hadn't been read yet, she convinced me to start it ASAP. She had read most of the books in the series multiple times, and had even gone to see Gabaldon do readings at area bookstores - something that I up to that point had never even considered. I was in awe of her passion for the series, so picked it up shortly after that.

I spent the next few days updating Erin on my progress and spending late nights reading in bed while the hubs slept beside me. When I got to the horrifying, heartbreaking ending, I read into the wee hours, skimming as fast as possible to at least find out what happened. When I finally got through it, instead of going to sleep, I turned back those pages and read them all the way through again in detail.

I couldn't put it down.

Outlander isn't for everyone, though. It's the kind of epic love story that you either connect with, or find incredibly cheesy. Just scan the Goodreads reviews to see some quite diverse opinions about the book. It's one of those that you either love or you hate, and whichever side of the continuum you land on, it seems that feelings run hot.

Claire is happily married when she travels back in time and meets Jamie. She's attracted to the tall, fiery redhead (because who isn't?), but only winds up marrying him in an effort to protect herself. She struggles with the idea of being married to two men, though some readers don't find her predicament persuasive. Honestly, I liked that Claire and Jamie's relationship was as complicated as Claire and her husband Frank's was.

Is it hard to root for a romance between a married woman and a young hot new man? Yes, but there's more to it than that. Claire, in her own time, had been a successful, smart, and somewhat independent woman. She thinks for herself, speaks her mind, and is stubborn as a mule. Jamie is likewise intelligent, strong, decisive, and stubborn as hell. They drive each other crazy, but in 18th century Scotland, there's only so much Claire can get away with. There's a scene where Jamie must chastise Claire by spanking her to reassert his dominance among his clansmen. Though it's difficult to swallow, it's also a glimpse into another time.

That time included all sorts of injustices against women, not the least of which was physical violence. Claire escapes sexual violence at the hands of the sadistic antagonist, Captain "Black Jack" Randall, though Jamie is not as lucky. If that's not the kind of thing you can get through, then maybe this isn't the book for you, but I urge you to give it a try. I don't usually mind when it's not simply salacious, and here I think the character of Jack Randall is well done. He's evil, and unforgivably so, but he's also unforgettable. The threat Randall presents is real, terrifying, and compelling.

Claire may be perceived as a cheater, and Jamie may be perceived as a wife-controlling hothead, but at the heart of their relationship is mutual respect. Claire's medical knowledge saves Jamie (and many others) from wounds and illness, and Jamie protects Claire from all of the things that go bump in the night. As the series progresses, they encounter even more obstacles across time and location, but their love holds them together. They are perfect for each other.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Outlander's release, and this weekend I received my copy in the mail. It has a gorgeous padded cover, a map, some essays, a reader's guide, a timeline, and a CD with some songs from Outlander the Musical. It was a purchase I had gone back and forth over, but am now so glad I bought it. It's the version I would recommend to new readers also, since the extras contain lots of good information about the series and background.

Plus, the hardcover makes these hefty tomes a bit more wieldy, and the padded feel of this one is extra nice on the hands. And did I mention the gorgeous new design?

Book: Outlander
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release date: July 5, 2011
(first published 1991)
Source: Bought

Summary: (from Goodreads) Twenty years ago, Diana Gabaldon swept readers into her mesmerizing world brimming with history, romance, and adventure. In celebration of the series that has captured the heart of millions, here is a special 20th anniversary edition of the novel that started it all—including a new essay, a new map, a CD with Outlander the musical, and more.

If you still haven't read this beautiful book, or if you're looking for a new copy, I highly recommend this anniversary edition. I've bought this book four times now - the large paperback, the Kindle edition, the small mass market sized paperback, and now this hardcover. I've lent both paperbacks out to friends and family, and if I get them back I'll be giving them away. I can't ever do enough to spread the word about this book. I love it so!

Rating: 5/5 stars
Click the stars for a description of my rating system


QUESTION: I have seen lots of read-alongs for other books popping up around the blogosphere, and with the reader's guide in this one there are a lot of good discussion questions. Is there any desire for an Outlander read-along? I'm thinking it would be a fun thing to do this fall, but if there's no interest then I won't bother. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!


Amazingly beautiful and painstakingly crafted signature courtesy of Small Review

13 comments:

Jess (Gone with the Words) said...

*claps enthusiastically* Bravo, Logan!! Amazing review!! You know my love for this series and I completely agree with all of your words, because it affected me the same way. I'm glad you decided to buy it!!

Small Review said...

Interesting. I didn't know all of that was in the books. I'm not really sure if it's for me, but I'm so curious that I will give it a try at some point. I'd love to do a read-along, but I don't think I can commit at this time. I have a few things that might be coming up in the fall that would take up a lot of time.

Smash Attack! said...

WOW. Amazing, insightful, passionate review. I was hounded by many bloggers to read this book and I'm glad I picked it up. It's truly in a league of its own. That 20th anniversary book sounds ridiculously awesome.

I'd be up for a read-along in the Fall. I need to revisit Claire and Jamie again!

Mflick1 said...

I thought that the love between Jamie and Claire was, well, epic. Sadly, I still didn't connect with the series. My good friend however did. I will ask her if she wants to do a read along with you!

Logan E. Turner said...

@Jess - Thank you! I'm really glad I bought it, too. I didn't realize it came with all the extras!

@Smalls - It's a big commitment, especially since the book is so long. I hope you give it a try at some point. You can always skip the groty parts.

@Smash - I'm so glad you read it! It's been ages since I've re-read it. One check for the read-along. Who's with us?

@Mflick1 - The later books are harder for me to get through. I really loved the first two the best. Does your friend have a blog? If so, send me her way!

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

I've read this one and loved it. If I hadn't I'd be rushing out to get a copy after this review! I still need to read the others in the series. I have the second on my tbr but haven't gotten to it yet. Have you read the others? I haven't heard much about them.

Aylee said...

This has been on my TBR for a very, very long time. My mum has read the entire series but when I wanted to read it years ago, she wouldn't let me because she wasn't sure that I was mature enough at the time. After reading this, now I know why. What can you expect about the treatment of women in that time period though? I think I could definitely manage it now and truly enjoy the book. Especially after gaining a harder skin after reading about all the brutal violence in the Millennium Trilogy. I'm convinced it sounds like something I would love to read, as I just adore time travelling stories. I just need to make the time to read it, of course.

Missie said...

I feel like I'm stumbled onto a secret. Jamie spanks Clair in public and this is punishment? Sounds kinky to me? LOL

I didn't know she was married to anyone else. I only knew, Jaime and Claire, that is all I've ever heard of. Does she ever see Frank again? Does he ever have any say? Just because she entered a marriage with Jamie to save her life, did she want to have sex with him or did she want to? Now I have to read to find out, eh?

Though I have a feeling that she really, really wanted to. Like you said, red-haired Scot. Yum.

Your 20th anniversary tome sounds beautiful and well worth it.

Logan E. Turner said...

@Melissa - I've read up through book 6 in the Outlander series (there are currently 7 published). I really enjoyed the first three, then after that they got less enjoyable for me. They seemed to get longer and longer, and in later books there are a lot more central characters in addition to Jamie and Claire. I'm being cautious because I don't want to spoil them for you! I did not connect as much with the additional characters, so thus those books were a little more meh than yay for me. Still, they get more complicated and interesting with back and forth trips through time, visits to Versailles/Paris, the Caribbean, and America, so that makes them a lot of fun. You also get more explanation on how and why the stones work the way they do, so if that interests you, it's good intel to gather via the reading experience.

Okay, blabbed on long enough...

@Aylee - I love the time travel in this series, and the farther along you get, the more is explained about how it works. I think the Millenium Trilogy is much more graphic, so if that didn't bother you, this should be no problem. It's all told retrospectively, too, so that provides some emotional distance as a reader. And the women stuff - exactly. I'm a feminist and all, but I don't go crazy when reading historical fiction. Women didn't have a lot of rights until very recently. Them's the breaks.

@Missie - Does she see Frank again? I'll never tell! Though I can't remember offhand if that is addressed in book 1 or 2. Claire really, really doesn't want to marry Jamie - despite her attraction to him. She knows she feels something for him, but is very loyal to her marriage to Frank. She's caught in that she can't tell anyone she's married while in the past, because Frank doesn't exist...yet. But she does ultimately make her own choice to marry Jamie, so this isn't exactly forced wedlock, more like the best scenario of the options available. It's an interesting struggle to read through.

Jaedia said...

I'd say so, yes. I've been meaning to read this myself ever since a friend demanded I read it. Not kidding, and I still haven't. I suck. But yes, a readalong could be interesting!

Stephanie (PoetrytoProse.com) said...

I saw the 20th anniversary edition on someone's IMM recently and my reaction was basically, "I WANT IT!!!" I've been very curious about the book so, time permitting, I would totally be down for a read-along. With a monster of a book that it is, it would really help to have others to go enjoy it with!

Logan E. Turner said...

@Jaedia - Another tentative yes for the readalong! Woohoo!

@Stephanie - Get it NOW! :) You need it. I promise. The length was a big reason I thought the read-along would work well for this book. I think I'm going to have to do it now.

Karen Henry said...

Great review! If you're a fan of the OUTLANDER series, check out my blog, Outlandish Observations, for the latest news and information about Diana Gabaldon's books.

Karen

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