It has been a theme so far this year, though not intentional, for me to visit or revisit books, television shows, or movies that I either missed the first time around or to simply refresh my memory about them. Earlier this year I was gifted the Kindle edition of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, the first novel in her sweeping historical epic.
Outlander is soon going to be made into a television show, one which many people I know will be watching, so I thought I should give it a read. Nearly everyone I am close to, and whose opinions I trust on books, is really into the series. And I must say that the first book does not disappoint.
The book starts out slow, and kinda dull, and at one point I even found myself questioning my friends on if it even gets good. It does, I was assured, and they were correct. At first, I did not like the character of Claire, and thought even less of her husband Frank. But as the book moves on, I came to like Claire a great deal. Like all of the characters in the book, she is fully realized and fleshed out. She is no shrinking violet, truly, but she is also vulnerable and sensitive while also being courageous and tough. In short, she's an actual person. Too often writers get stuck on the "strong female character" trope and make them cardboard and boring. Such is not the case with Claire.
Gabaldon extends that same care in character creation to every character in the story, no matter how small the part. Everyone feels like a person I have known at some point in my life (for better or worse). This, along with Gabaldon's extensive vocabulary and use of languages, makes the world she creates alive and vibrant in a way that many stories are not. And though the story can be rough at times, it felt good to be in that world. I was sad to leave it (but I immediately downloaded the next book to my Kindle, cause living in the future is awesome).
I didn't come to this book expecting ahistorically feminist men or ideas, but I was pleasantly surprised. While Gabaldon shows just how much the world has changed (and sometimes not) for women, Claire and Jamie share a refreshingly equal partnership, as do many of the other characters in the novel. There is, of course, some violence (or threat of violence) against women in the course of the story, but the world itself was a violent place at that time and location. It was also refreshing for male characters in the novel to acknowledge that it is possible for a husband to rape his wife - a lesson many 21st century people would do well to learn.
I have but two complaints about the novel. For one, there are times when Gabaldon skips through a story and it feels abrupt and unfinished. At other times, she drags it out for what seems like ever. An example of the latter - a character must defend themselves against a wolf, and she goes on for nearly five pages about it, and it was so dry and boring that I found myself skimming through it. In fact, the book nearly grinds to a halt when Claire and some of her clansmen must rescue a fellow clansman from a prison. It's so tedious and drags on for much longer than necessary. I again found myself skimming parts of it and longing for some kind of dialog. The other complaint is that there are times when the story seems choppy, as though it were edited and a smooth transition between the edited parts had not been created. For example, there is a part where a character is on trial, and their lawyer is prepping them for the next day of examination. Yet when the next day comes, the character is left alone, the lawyer is not there, and no reason for the lawyer's absence is ever given. In fact, the character of the lawyer never shows up again. It's very jarring and off-putting.
All in all, I get what all the fuss is about. This is one of the few times that I have read something with a lot of hubub about it and it's lived up to the hype. It's a worthy read, and I look forward to reading the rest of the novels in the series.