Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Review: Outlander

Warning: Spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.

The audio book version of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander is, well, long. It's just over 32 hours in length. I feel like I spent nearly that entire time trying to make sense of Gabaldon's work. What exactly was I listening to?

When the story opened I had truly no expectations. When the main character, Claire, jumped back into the 1700's I thought: Aha! it's a time travel book. Cool!

I was psyched that Claire jumped into Scotland during the 1700's, as one of my favorite YouTube channels explores this time period in depth. I thought I was in store for some historic fiction. Which I was. Mostly.

The book seemed to take another turn when Claire was forced to marry Jamie. Ahhh, young, muscular, fit, handsome, honorable, lovesick, and notably sexually inexperienced Jamie. That's when I thought the true colors of Gabaldon's work were revealed: it was a sort of ladies escape fantasy.

Why else would Claire and Jamie have so much sex? There were so many scenes and with so much detail that I found myself losing patience and hitting the 10-second skip button whenever things got steamy. But it's not just all the hanky panky: Claire seamlessly adjusts to life in the 1700's and her World War II nursing experience let's her play a meaningful role in the community. Most importantly, she finds safety and camaraderie among the McKenzie Clan, tucked away in an idyllic castle no less.

So this must be what the ladies want, I thought to myself as I listened to Claire flourishing in her new life.

To Gabaldon's credit, she doesn't let the text linger in this blissful state for long. As detailed as the sex scenes are, so too was Claire's brutal introduction to the domestic violence that was the norm of the 1700's. Add to that lengthy and vivid discussions of corporal punishment, the injustice of a witch trial and the ultimate torture and rape of Jamie and I found myself asking: just who is this book written for? These are powerful and uncomfortable topics, and for Gabaldon to take them on at the same detail that she tackles the romance of Claire and Jamie is both jarring and I suppose impressive.

I can almost imagine the interaction between Gabaldon and say her 4th grade teacher when she handed in her first story. "It's nice," the teacher might have said, "but it could use more detail." At which point, Gabaldon was like, you want detail? I'll give you detail! And before you know it, folks like myself are muttering: "I get it, I get it" and pressing the skip button repeatedly to avoid yet another intimate encounter between Claire and Jamie.

So is Outlander erotic fantasy? I think classifying it as such is missing the mark. Ultimately Gabaldon wants to reveal life in the 1700's, and heck, life itself, as what it is: sometimes magnificent; sometimes horrifying. Most importantly, she's not in hurry and will gladly bring the TMI.

Apparently there are eight more books in this series. After the long journey of book one I'm a bit hesitant to start book two. However, I'm guessing I'll watch a clever video put out by Fadbai Dozi, and I'll once again yearn for a bit of Scottish Highlander storytelling. And then I'll be ready to catch up with Claire and Jamie.

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