The whole time I was reading Outlander, which was every bit of a full week (it’s 550 pages and felt like twice that), I couldn’t decide how I felt about it. I haven’t been this ambivalent about a book since Pride and Prejudice (just kidding, we all know that book is unequivocally terrible).
The basic premise: A 27-year-old married nurse named Claire inadvertently travels from 1945 to 1743. Her adventures take place in the Scottish Highlands, where she meets a studly young red-haired kilt-wearer named Jamie. Sexual tension mounts, and somehow their situation eventually requires that they marry each other. To save their fortunes, or their lives, or something. I actually forget exactly how it was contrived, perhaps because it was so…contrived. Anyway, the point is, they get married and pretend it’s against their will, but wouldn’t you know it, they do find each other pretty appealing, and you know what Scotsmen wear (or don’t wear) under those kilts…Clearly, the only suitable thing for them to do is each other. A lot. Like crazy.
In between carnal episodes, Claire and Jamie encounter the inevitable challenges, particularly the dreaded English Captain Randall (a distant relative of Claire’s 1945 husband, Frank, who really gets the short end of the stick here, if you’ll excuse the expression). He has some nasty history with Jamie, and also happens to be a homosexual sadist. Not a nice man, causes our heroine and her lover quite a few problems. While the book is long and the inclusion of some irrelevant scenes totally inexplicable, Gabaldon does manage to generate genuine suspense towards the end. Still, I’ll never understand why, in the middle of a nail-biting jailbreak attempt, it seemed like a good idea to remove Claire completely from her task at hand and insert a scene in which she fights a wolf, hand-to-hand, armed with nothing, and survives.
Which brings me to the root of my ambivalence: this book is a lot of fun—if you can suspend your disbelief about practically everything that happens. I’m not referring just to the time-travel aspect, which, having read a synopsis, I expected going in. What I mean is, you will need to forget everything you know about feminism, egalitarian marriage, and domestic violence. If you, like me, will take issue with a man beating his wife for disobedience (and then spending several pages defending his decision and even describing the pleasure he got from the act), this may not be the book for you. There were several scenes I had to roll my eyes through in order to get back to the enjoyable stuff. But there is a lot of enjoyable stuff—steamy encounters, risk and adventure, and a sweet, blossoming romance between the two leads.
I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to continue reading the rest of the books in the series (there are seven, with an eighth coming out this year), but the ending was pretty juicy, and before I knew it I was checking the library catalog to see if the second installment was available for checkout. Well played, DG. You sucked me in. I hope you’re happy.