09 June 2012

Books: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1992)

It’s been 20 years since Diana Gabaldon began her romance/historical/fantasy/science fiction series about one Claire Randall, 20th Century heroine who is transported back in time (via some stone circles) to the 18th Century. I had been aware of them for that long as well, but no matter what books store I worked, they were always shelved in the Romance section –one genre I don’t read. 

Of course, over the years, many readers (all women) have told me that the series is not really all romance, that it has equal doses of action, humor and history lesson. Still, it was considered Romance – at least to eyes of the Border, B. Dalton, Walden Books and Waterstones that I’ve worked at since 1987. Eventually, the books would be re-categorized as General Fiction/Literature I would guess more at the instance of the publishers, who always packaged them in plain, primary color covers –no half-naked men and women on the covers that was, and still is, typical Historical Romance. They obviously felt that the series sort of should not be pigeon-hold under one genre and is kind of telling men, you'll enjoy it for the violence.

But when Borders was closing down, and I was buying books on the cheap knowing it would some time before I could purchase new ones again, I bought the first 2 books in the series. So, I finally grabbed book 1 and sort of liked it.

The premise goes as this: 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.

Here’s the thing. It is long -850 pages in this mass market edition. And with 7 books out in the series, each topping at close to 1000 pages (one of the later editions clocks in at 1400 pages!!), I’m weary to start another endless series (an 8th book is due next year) that are doorstops in book format.

Outlander is a bit too long, too wordy, and vacillates between badly written and showing true talent. There is a lot of romance, or sex, and Gabaldon has created a perfect man in Jamie Fraser (who comes off more life the T-1000 in Terminator 2 very un-killable despite the efforts of friends, family and foes). And Claire does a lot of hand-wringing about whether she should leave Jamie and try to return to her own time –and seems to need rescue every 5 minutes as well. It gets old very fast.

Plus, its 25 pages to the end where she first starts pondering –after having killed two men in battle –whether she’s affected the flow of time. Did Claire enter a parallel universe? Is she caught in a time-loop? And since we find out she’s not the only one to travel back in time, who else has stumbled through? And since the one who came from 1967, if Claire returns to 1945, can she look the woman up and prevent her from going...time travel. Maybe that's why she ignores those time threads altogether? So it forces me to obsess about them.

Still, surprisingly, the book is fast-paced (even if it was overlong) and Gabaldon is a good storyteller. She has created some believable characters and they’re well developed (like George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, each character and location seems to have lengthy, colorful background and she wants to tell us) and the author uses her three degrees – a Bachelor of Science in zoology, a Master of Science in marine biology, and a Ph.D. in ecology- well. 

Still, the next book is 947 pages. I have it, so I guess I should read it, but…well come on!!!

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