Friday, March 21, 2014

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Library
Read: March 20, 2013

The year is 1945. Claire Randall is traveling with her husband when she touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is hurled back in time to a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord 1743. Catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, she soon realizes that an alliance with James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, might be the only way to survive. Thus begins a work of unrivaled storytelling that has become a modern classic.

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Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall
© Sony Pictures Televison Inc.
The buzz surrounding the impending television adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander forced me to acknowledge that I seemed to be the only one of my inner circle to have skipped the title. Well, until now. 

For the record, I'm not big on trending titles. As a reviewer I find it is harder to remain objective when you are staring down thousands of die-hard fans which probably explains my sidestepping Gabaldon's epic for so long. Still, one can't legitimately bitch about the liberties taken in a mini-series less one has read the original and because the book is always better I figured I'd best make room in my schedule and hope the title lived up to its reputation. 

It took me two weeks to finish the book between other responsibilities and obligations and all I can really say is that I'm a bit miffed. My eighteen year old self would have loved this piece, but the twenty-eight year old incarnation writing this review isn't exactly spellbound.

First and foremost, Gabaldon’s pacing leaves something to be desired. I honestly fell asleep reading this book and not because it was two in the morning and I couldn't function any longer. I'd get through two pages and wake up with an imprint of the binding down the side of my face, cursing my failure to get through a single chapter before succumbing to boredom. The material is interesting in its way, but the sheer amount of exposition and detail made it difficult for me to engage in the narrative and I often found my mind wandering and/or shutting down completely.

To add insult to injury, I didn't much appreciate Gabaldon’s leading lady. What kind of woman falls through time and simply accepts it? Claire fails to react to her situation until the final third of the book when she finally admits it to Jamie at which point it seems too little too late. I'm sorry, but I don't buy four months of absolute nonchalance, not for a minute.
Her tendency to act as an observer was equally hard to swallow. Protagonist though she is, Claire rarely takes control or initiative, a fact which makes her a rather tedious and uninspiring narrator. 

Claire's relationship with Jamie also failed to impress. Personally, I didn't feel an ounce of chemistry between these characters and I am seriously disturbed by Claire ability to tumble her wild Scotsman with barely an ounce of compunction over her betrayal of Frank which leads me to my next point. 

Lotte Verbeek as Geillis Duncan
© Sony Pictures Television Inc.
I'm not a prude, but I have a problem when authors ask me to read scenes of gratuitous intimacy. Don't get me wrong, some of my favorite writers pen historical romance, but there is a line and I think Gabaldon crossed it. Like anything else I want love scenes to have a purpose within a narrative and unfortunately, I feel her efforts lacked substance and that the frequency with which she depicts Claire and Jamie’s coupling quickly makes their unions a trivial act of meaningless copulation.

Jamie has his moments, instances in which his inexperience and perspective prove a breath of fresh air, but his character, like Claire, didn't affect me as much as the supporting cast. I have no problem admitting I formed a certain attachment to both Geillis Duncan and Janet Murray, admiring the complexity and strength in their individual characters. Jonathan Randall also caught my eye. A particularly memorable villain, I'm comfortable ranking him alongside Carver Doone which is no small praise in my book. 

Will I continue the series? Most likely. I like Gabaldon’s unconventional plot points and time travel fantasies hold certain appeal for me, but that said I’m in no rush. 

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“You are safe," he said firmly. "You have my name and my family, my clan, and if necessary, the protection of my body as well. The man willna lay hands on ye again, while I live.” 
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Marg said...

It is always interesting to me when someone doesn't love a book that I love so intensely and I like that you have clearly laid out your reasons why! I found these books so unputdownable I was reading each one in a couple of days. It got to the point that I could only buy the next book on a Saturday because otherwise I wouldn't sleep and would have to go to work feeling like a zombie. I read the first 4 books in the series in something like 3 weeks. I don't find the latter books in the series quite so engrossing, but because I still love the characters, okay, Jamie, I am willing to slog through some of the filler stuff that Gabaldon continues to put in there! As for the TV series..... Can not wait!!

Daphne said...

I haven't read them either - and don't plan to. I probably will watch the TV show this summer though :)