Books are like every other art form in that they’re analyzed subjectively. My experience of a book will never be exactly the same as anyone else’s. Sometimes I love a book, sometimes I hate it, and sometimes (perhaps worst of all) a book can fail to inspire any feelings in me whatsoever.
This is not the case with Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.
I actually stumbled across this book through a routine Barnes & Noble visit. I wandered the stacks, seeing what caught my eye, and saw that now-oh-so-familiar large format blue cover on an end display:
The summary convinced me that this was a book I needed to have. Romance, time travel, adventure – I was sold. I loved that it was time travel between two different historical time periods. Not only did Gabaldon have to research 1945 England and Scotland, but also 1743. I get to read about a woman in the past, who travels even farther back into the past? Done.
As with many, many books that I buy (especially impulse purchases), the book then sat on my shelf for months. In fact, I had very nearly forgotten about it, until a coworker mentioned it to me. Also an avid reader, Erin was chatting with me about our latest and greatest reads, and told me she thought I’d like a little book called Outlander.
When I told her I actually had a copy that hadn’t been read yet, she convinced me to start it ASAP. She had read most of the books in the series multiple times, and had even gone to see Gabaldon do readings at area bookstores – something that I up to that point had never even considered. I was in awe of her passion for the series, so picked it up shortly after that.
I spent the next few days updating Erin on my progress and spending late nights reading in bed while the hubs slept beside me. When I got to the horrifying, heartbreaking ending, I read into the wee hours, skimming as fast as possible to at least find out what happened. When I finally got through it, instead of going to sleep, I turned back those pages and read them all the way through again in detail.
I couldn’t put it down.
Outlander isn’t for everyone, though. It’s the kind of epic love story that you either connect with, or find incredibly cheesy. Just scan the Goodreads reviews to see some quite diverse opinions about the book. It’s one of those that you either love or you hate, and whichever side of the continuum you land on, it seems that feelings run hot.
Claire is happily married when she travels back in time and meets Jamie. She’s attracted to the tall, fiery redhead (because who isn’t?), but only winds up marrying him in an effort to protect herself. She struggles with the idea of being married to two men, though some readers don’t find her predicament persuasive. Honestly, I liked that Claire and Jamie’s relationship was as complicated as Claire and her husband Frank’s was.
Is it hard to root for a romance between a married woman and a young hot new man? Yes, but there’s more to it than that. Claire, in her own time, had been a successful, smart, and somewhat independent woman. She thinks for herself, speaks her mind, and is stubborn as a mule. Jamie is likewise intelligent, strong, decisive, and stubborn as hell. They drive each other crazy, but in 18th century Scotland, there’s only so much Claire can get away with. There’s a scene where Jamie must chastise Claire by spanking her to reassert his dominance among his clansmen. Though it’s difficult to swallow, it’s also a glimpse into another time.
That time included all sorts of injustices against women, not the least of which was physical violence. Claire escapes sexual violence at the hands of the sadistic antagonist, Captain “Black Jack” Randall, though Jamie is not as lucky. If that’s not the kind of thing you can get through, then maybe this isn’t the book for you, but I urge you to give it a try. I don’t usually mind when it’s not simply salacious, and here I think the character of Jack Randall is well done. He’s evil, and unforgivably so, but he’s also unforgettable. The threat Randall presents is real, terrifying, and compelling.
Claire may be perceived as a cheater, and Jamie may be perceived as a wife-controlling hothead, but at the heart of their relationship is mutual respect. Claire’s medical knowledge saves Jamie (and many others) from wounds and illness, and Jamie protects Claire from all of the things that go bump in the night. As the series progresses, they encounter even more obstacles across time and location, but their love holds them together. They are perfect for each other.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Outlander‘s release, and this weekend I received my copy in the mail. It has a gorgeous padded cover, a map, some essays, a reader’s guide, a timeline, and a CD with some songs from Outlander the Musical. It was a purchase I had gone back and forth over, but am now so glad I bought it. It’s the version I would recommend to new readers also, since the extras contain lots of good information about the series and background.
Plus, the hardcover makes these hefty tomes a bit more wieldy, and the padded feel of this one is extra nice on the hands. And did I mention the gorgeous new design?
If you still haven’t read this beautiful book, or if you’re looking for a new copy, I highly recommend this anniversary edition. I’ve bought this book four times now – the large paperback, the Kindle edition, the small mass market sized paperback, and now this hardcover. I’ve lent both paperbacks out to friends and family, and if I get them back I’ll be giving them away. I can’t ever do enough to spread the word about this book. I love it so!
Rating: 5/5 stars
QUESTION: I have seen lots of read-alongs for other books popping up around the blogosphere, and with the reader’s guide in this one there are a lot of good discussion questions. Is there any desire for an Outlander read-along? I’m thinking it would be a fun thing to do this fall, but if there’s no interest then I won’t bother. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
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