12/12/2010

OUTLANDER BY DIANA GABALDON - A CONTROVERSIAL READING


From the book cover : 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.

First in a series of books that combines time travel, history, sexy romance, and a bit of genealogy, "Outlander," by Diana Gabaldon, takes the heroine,  Claire Randall,  back in time 200 years,  to 18th century Scotland. Precisely to 1743 on the verge of the tragic Jacobite uprisings  - the time period of her husband's scandalous ancestor, Captain John Randall. Thus begins a story full of adventure, history and romance as Claire tries to reconcile her mysterious appearance in 18th century Scotland with her life and husband in the 20th century. Actually, she doesn’t seem to miss her past (or future?) so much. She is,  in fact,  totally caught in the web of her new dangerous, adventurous, intriguing life,  and, especially, bewildered by her new charming partner, Jamie Fraser, and is rarely nostalgic.
This is it. At last, I've read it. After hearing  friends and acquaintances talk about lovely Jamie, I’ve finally made his acquaintance. So? Do I like him? Impossible not to. Though I think he is  too good to be true. Too young, too handsome, too naive, too patient, too impatient, too kind, too strong,  too  ...  fictional! That is what he is, in fact.
On a shallow note,  his red hair. Nothing against fair haired people, of course. Only I went on figuring him as tall, dark and handsome. Something like this… 

Not at all like Jamie, I know

or this… 

Even less than the one before, you're right
and when Ms Gabaldon – who had any right to do it, since Jamie is her creature – reminded me of his long red-gold hair I was so annoyed! Couldn’t she just let me dream my own Jamie? Which I did,  against all the details given.Only I found him always too perfect to be my hero.
Jokes apart, I actually appreciated this first instalment of the saga which sold millions all over the world. Just ask my friends. I read most of it  while in London at the end of November and any occasion was good to open my "Outlander" copy with a smile printed on my face: in the tube, on the train, on the plane, waiting for the others finishing shopping at the stores, sitting  and freezing on a bench in a park, at night in bed though exhausted. Once you start, you can’t stop, you want to go on and to get more . This novel  is everything a good page turner must be: intriguing and well written. 
Diana Gabaldon
Smart Ms Gabaldon  obtained a successful blend skillfully mingling the most popular features of historical fiction for female audience. And it seems she goes on as successfully as she started with Jamie and Claire’s adventures after many years and a huge number of copies sold. The story has got to its 7th instalment!
 After studying and teaching the Jacobite rebellion leafing through my history books or Sir Walter Scott’s “Waverley” (1814), reading "Outlander" was actually great fun..It was like  watching those familiar tragic   historical facts with a much lighter touch but  more involved/ing  point of view.

I ‘ve told you something about the hero. Now, the heroine… I couldn’t actually sympathize with Claire Randall in  her experiences in the Highlands. She seemed rather insensitive at times, often selfish and sometimes it is like she is watching   and evaluating  things  in such a detached way! I can’t see her as very passionate either,  though she is brave. She’s more matter-of-fact and  more pragmatic than romantic, often too impulsive and  so very little sensible. When she looks smart, it is only because she is helped by her “outlander” experience and just seems cunning.  She is even annoying when her impulsiveness leads her to get stuck in troubles and patient Jamie must be there, always ready to rescue her at the cost of his life. I wondered and wondered :"Is this loyal, brave, fascinating, passionate hero what Claire deserves?"
In this story,  she has to face a choice, a difficult one, but I can’t feel any real pathos or sorrow. She incredibly rescues him from death in the end but , simply and bluntly,  I can’t like her very much.
Now, why can’t I? Aren’t women readers supposed to recognize themselves in heroines? Not always, in fact. I’ll try to itemize the several explanations I gave to myself:

1.    I can’t sympathize with her because I’m envious/jealous
2.    I can’t because I am so different from her,  hence I  would have made different choices all the time
3.    I can’t because the hero is so terrific that poor  "she"  is shadowed and reduced to a  great actor's stooge
4     All of the above

Maybe n. 4 is the answer.
Anyhow, very  little flaws but lots of highly entertaining moments as far as … the last 200 pages . Wentworth Prison first and  the Abbey in France in the end … There,  something changed. It was not only because of all  the pain and suffering described, neither for the scabrous details given in this section. There was something definitely different in these pages, so distant from the previous fluent narrative that everything  sounded  barely convincing,  as if everything happened forcibly so with my mind refusing to accept it as totally and utterly impossible.
Those pages must have puzzled more than one reader, since Ms Gabaldon herself tries to defend her choices  in a heartfelt  blogpost  in which she advocates herself and her creatures:  Jamie and the Rule of Three.

The last 200 hundred pages were the main reason for giving this highly entertaining best-seller only 4 stars out of 5.
I know I’m rather late to the party and that many of you have already read most or all of it through thousands of pages as far as “An Echo in the Bone” (the last novel released in the series) but would  you mind to share your thoughts with me?  It has been  a controversial reading but honestly not one which has  left me untouched or unimpressed. Am I going on reading  the Outlander series? You’ ll discover it checking the CURRENTLY READING section in my right sidebar from time to time ...

3 comments:

Karen said...

I'm glad you've read it at last, mo charaid! ;)
I agree with all your statements, included the 4 reasons why one cant's sympathize with Claire: she isn't very popular among the Outlander Saga fans, poor girl :P
I've read all the 7 novels so far, and enjoyed the interesting mix of (accurate) historical and romance elements, although in the last one (Ane echo in the bone) those elemnts weren't mixed as skilfully as in the previous book. Couldn't stand hundreds and hundreds of pages about the American Civil war, just to find out that all the "romance" had been confined in the last 100 pages! And that said "romance" looked like a condensed soap opera... how disappointing!
Nevertheless, I'm sure you'll go on with the reading: it's really fascinating, at least the Scottish section of the saga.

JaneGS said...

I can understand how you feel about Claire and my response to her varies. Book 3 is actually my favorite, and the one in which I like Claire best. I finished Echo in the Bone earlier this year, and she annoyed me through most of the book, actually. I hope you finished the series as it is quite good and entertaining, but takes a certain commitment.

Personally I think Gabaldon brilliant--her main character, Claire, is a modern woman and so when the author, writing a historical novel, gets anachronistic, as is inevitable, she can point out that it's Claire who is bringing her modern sensibilities to the picture, she's just writing them down! Also, I think she was also brilliant in how she handled the bigamy issue--Claire and Jamie were married, but Claire was already married. She had her commmit adultery sort of, but not...brilliant!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@JanetGS
I like reading a variety of different things and Gabaldon 2 and 3 are already on my shelves waiting for ... next summer. I liked reading Outlander but I'm not sure I want to go as far as Echo in the Bone. There are so many other characters/writers stuck in my TBR list!
Thanks for your always precious contributions, J.!