I’m a sucker for any type of historical book, and if there’s one that includes someone somehow traveling from modern times back in time, well, you just show me where to sign.
I started hearing a lot about Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series early in the summer as the TV version of the first book hit Starz. It seemed that everyone on my social media feeds were talking about how excited they were about the show and how much they’d loved the books, so when I needed something less heavy and intellectual after my bingeing on Anais Nin and Henry Miller, I thought I’d give the first book in the series a whirl.
I loved the very first line I read, where Gabaldon writes, “People disappear all the time. Ask any policeman. Better yet, ask a journalist.” Umm, hello, brilliant line! Then this came a few sentences later: “International financiers change their names and vanish into the smoke of imported cigars.” How delicious of an image is that?!
The World War II era was always my favorite part of history to study, probably because my Pop-Pop was in the Battle of the Bulge, so I loved that “Outlander” started in 1945. And though I’ve never been to Scotland, I recently visited Ireland for the first time and fell in love with the countryside, like, so much I’d move there in a heartbeat, so as Claire soon began her travels through 1700s Scotland, I couldn’t help but picture all the untouched beauty I’d seen in Ireland, whose gorgeous landscapes seem to be similar to those of Scotland.
As I worked my way through this monstrous tome of more than 15,000 pages on my Kindle, I loved watching the story unfold, but the book wasn’t as great as I’d heard people say or as I wanted it to be. It was good, quite good even, and a gripping story as I was reading it, but as soon as I stopped for the day on my train ride to work, I started thinking about some of the things that bugged me about it.
It was a very easy, light read (especially after spending much of my summer reading deep in thought thanks to Nin and Miller), but it bugged me that Claire seemed to acclimate to the 1700s pretty much right off the bat. I don’t know about you, but a 1945 Nikki would probably freak out a hell of lot more than Claire did about the loss of modern amenities like electricity and running water and, oh, I don’t know, everything.
I can only imagine what a 2014 Nikki would do without her iPhone, and I’m not even married to it as much as some people I know whose name I’m too much of a lady to mention.
While I couldn’t help but love Claire’s sass mouth — I mean, how fantastic a cuss is “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ??” — I’d think that someone who found themselves transported back into such a barbaric time would bite their tongue a little more.
Then there’s Jamie. Don’t get me wrong, I love a knight-in-shining-armor story as much as the next lass, but by the second scrape Claire got herself into, I knew immediately Jamie would show up to save her, and if he was indisposed, one of his cohorts would and for each and every scrape. And I won’t even get into the whole wolf part because, I mean, come on.
Also: Despite seeing Sam Heughan, the actor who plays Jamie on the Starz show on the cover each time I opened the book, I pictured Luke Evans, the lead from “Dracula Untold” while I was reading for some reason. Weird.
I found the story a bit choppy in parts, like I’d have to go back a page or two because I was like, “Who are you talking about?” or “Wait, when did you get there?” and some parts did get a bit long, like when Claire was eavesdropping outside when Jamie was having it out with his sister Jenny after they’d arrived at his ancestral home, Lallybroch.
Maybe it’s just my always-there internal editrix, but I’d read a passage and think, “This could’ve been cut out.”
Having said all that, Gabaldon did a truly wonderful job capturing that time period of Scotland, especially for someone who never set foot in Scotland until after the book took off.
The story of Claire and Jamie is compelling, and I’m now invested (and nosy) enough to want to know what all happens to them — and catch up with Claire’s 1945 husband, Frank — but I don’t know if I want to cheat and read Wikipedia or invest time into the next seven books of the series, each of which, I’m sure, are of equally ginormous page lengths.
Tis a good conundrum to have, I daresay, and one that won’t be solved for a little bit as next on my To Read list is William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch,” which I’ve borrowed from a friend.
Have you read the “Outlander” series? Should I stick with it? Let me know!