Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Many people urged me to read Outlander, and when the Starz series started approaching I finally decided I really should give it a try. Unfortunately, the queue in the library for this one was very long, and I did not get the book until some six months after placing my reservation.
Now, Outlander was sold to me as a romance. However, what I heard from it already indicated to me it is in fact not a romance – it does have a romance plot, but it is essentially a historical novel. Of sorts. Time travel, don’t you know. The point I’m trying to make is that if you go into it expecting a love story of epic proportions you will be very disappointed.
I was disappointed, but not for the aforementioned reason. What most disappointed me was the feeling of plotlessness: I had no idea what the objective of the characters was, what sort of ending I should expect, or indeed whether it would end at all. All this made the 600+ pages feel very unnecessary. No scene felt like the high point, and at one point I swore if the horses started acting nervously one more time giving the hero Jamie an opportunity to look cool and in command I would throw the book to a wall. There is a whole lot of meandering, a lot of skirmishing, a lot of bleeding and injury, and quite a lot of sex, too – to the point it started to feel boring and irrelevant.
What made all the meandering et cetera bearable is the narrator. It is in first person, but Claire has such a wonderfully dry sense of humour that I could not help but love it. My particular favourite was her way of talking about her 1945 husband Frank’s academic fervour – it is delightful, let me assure you! After being hurled into the past, Claire also comments on different sorts of practices, conventions and beliefs in a way that is amusing and observant (although I really would have liked there to be more talk of commodes – for a novel that is very blunt about many natural functions and such no attention is given to these matters, let alone menstruation).
Apart from those hoping for central romance story, I would also not recommend this book to those of a squeamish disposition. I don’t consider myself overly sensitive, but some scenes especially towards the end made me suppress visualisation like crazy. So be warned – it is not a sterile historical novel by any means.
Now, as for the rating I have given this book. It demands some clarification. I considered giving the book 2 or 2.5 stars for the more or less complete lack of spell-binding it did on me. However, I felt inclined to up it to 3 because all told, it is not a bad book. Yes, there doesn’t seem to be much a plot to it, but it is also the first book in a series that I believe plays a longer game. But it is also well researched, the narrator is excellent and indeed all the characters well-rounded and grey rather than black and white, and it is not an impossible read despite its length. So 3 stars it is – more identifiable good qualities than bad but a major quality I do not like at all, and I feel no interest in picking up the next book. But give it a shot if you’re into historical novels, because that aspect it does very well!
To close off, I want to issue a warning – it will affect your vocabulary. The Scottish dialect will rub off on you big time.