(Some extremely sensitive souls may find vague events mentioned to be spoilers.)
Sorry about that title.
I shouldn’t be so picky. The first 3 books in Gabaldon’s Outlander (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager) series have gone with me through a difficult month. I never lacked for something to read as we waited for appointments nor a distraction from whatever unpleasantness was at hand. I was reminded of a day of colonoscopy prep during which I watched most of the BBC’s series, Henry VIII. I was more or less unaware of the quarts of vileness I had to consume and its results, despite the dubious history and the inflamed sex scenes of the show.
Usually I don’t read romances, historical or otherwise, well not since I was 16. You may have heard that Diana Gabaldon fought long and hard to have her novels reclassified. You may have heard that she says they are not romances. I say, there are bodices and they get ripped. In the second book Dragonfly in Amber, Claire is sitting in the doctor’s lounge at the Boston hospital where she is on staff and she picks up a romance novel to pass the time. Just to prove her contention, Gabaldon includes passages from that book – in italics. So? I was not struck by any great difference. Call me a naive reader if you will, but I made my living teaching English literature.
Gabaldon had a superb idea. At the end of the second world war, Claire, a former combat nurse visiting Inverness with her historian husband, is drawn through a cleft in a circle of standing stones and finds herself in Scotland of 1743, indeed in the middle of a skirmish between highlanders and redcoats. One of the less savoury redcoats looks exactly like her husband, back in 1945. Claire remembers her history – in April 1745, the highland clans will be wiped out by the English army at the battle of Culloden and in the pillage and famine of its aftermath.
It is one of the most tragic events in British history.
What I want, I suppose, is a certain amount of gravitas, but what I get is a series of coincidences that would make Dickens blush and awful event following on the heals of awful event. Jamie, Claire’s 18th century husband, is about to be tortured and raped to death when Claire is thrust out of the prison’s back door and attacked by wolves. Pirates show up to steal the treasure on the very day Jamie tries to claim it. Three different ships, travelling separately, after 3 months crossing the Atlantic, fetch up on the same West Indian island more or less the same day. A return after 20 year’s absence is crowned by 2 murders and a devastating fire that destroys a livelihood.
My reading partner who is slightly ahead of me keeps asking,”What shark is she jumping today?” “Oh today’s it’s the slave”, I reply.
A rollicking tale, no doubt about it. Reading online comments, I learn that in the most recent book, In My Heart’s Blood, Claire at age 62, by one reader’s calculation, is still working the way she did at 48. And of course still having sex, graphically, although by now constant readers must be able to imagine every possible move.
Be assured, though, that the author is still telling us that Jamie is strong, broad-chested, tall, with flaming hair, streaked with gold, amber and possibly platinum by now. Whether he is still a proponent of wifely obedience and corporal punishment, I don’t know. I hear that he doubts his ability to lead an army, despite the fact that he has been leading large bodies of men for decades.
Fewer adjectives, we cry.
How does she do that, anyway? Does she sit in Scottish glades taking notes of light qualities? Or among Caribbean mangroves?
I don’t scorn Gabaldon’s abilities. I just wish she would listen to her editor. Of course she doesn’t have to. Her readers love the purplish prose. Probably the light fuzzy hairs on their arms really do shiver upright.
So why don’t I just put down Voyager and pick Crime and Punishment, do some serious reading? That’s what I hate the most about Gabaldon’s writing. I can’t stop. I’m addicted.