(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.
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Ah, so there is someone brave enough to critique DG’s writing. I agree with much of what you say. (Glad to hear you had the ‘reads’ to help you over difficult times…)
I remember enjoying her first book – read some 20 years ago and it’s only been this year (because of the TV series – the adaptation of which I’m mostly enjoying) that I re-read it along with the others.
Reading her tomes however, I find some things jarringly annoying; “…like a viking beserker” immediately springs to mind, but there are other oft repeated phrases that jolt me into thinking why didn’t an editor pick up on that? (I can almost hear DG responding to me: Well don’t read them then!) She does appear to write to a recipe, in that her books have all the ingredients to capture an extremely wide audience. Clever. Very clever. And, it’s worked for her. Having heard DG speak on how she actually writes her books, I now understand why they appear, to me, to be disjointed. However, I also realise the blood, sweat and tears that must go into writing a book. Not to mention the energy, focus and time. So, I do admire her for that.
Jamie exists to keep Claire alive and vice versa. Protagonists constantly rescue one another, with a war here and a war there albeit in different continents.
Her philosophy on love, family and helping others is a strong values focus and it’s here that DG uses such wonderfully encapsulating language. Her two main characters reflect and respond to whatever life throws up. Not to mention the romance element: The sensuously passionate spark between them that could only come from none other than Zeus! I see this as the strength of her books and why millions of people identify with them and enjoy the marvellously written ‘physical communication’.
I have no problem with the two main character’s physical enjoyment, or ages. Being loved and cherished and existing for the joy of one another – how glorious would we all feel and look? Whisky and kissing – great tonsil lubricants! DG does seem to radiate contentment…
However, when DG is on the ‘stage’ I do find she can be very pontificating. She wants her readers to “get” just what she has intended. Very controlling… She also suffers from substantiating her characters’ motives with the drawn out precision of a priest. Well, they are her creations so perhaps she has a right to being obsessively possessive? But I know what I think about Black Jack!
I absolutely love Jamie’s humour but I find it difficult to reconcile this writing with how DG speaks and responds in public. I don’t see her possessing this same wit. In general, her writing and her interviews/publicity do not synch for me with the wit and humour that comes from Jamie’s mouth and the mouths of some of her other characters. She’s given Jamie, and others some fabulous lines. I don’t hear that same clever, quick wit from her.
The books have stimulated me to discover more about the history of Scotland which has been a really rewarding experience. The power of words in the 1322 Declaration of Arbroath had the hairs on my arms shivering upright. So another bonus and thanks to DG
However, after reading the first three books, I too have a recipe. I read first chapter and then the ending!!! Never in my life before – but I cannot bear the inevitable continuous trauma/sub-plots/wars etc without knowing the ending.
Got to give DG kudos for writing so many ripping yarns. I bought the jolly things! Like you said, they are addictive. But how lucky are we all with Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe. Perfect, gorgeous and hot!!!
I also have to know the ending, otherwise I can’t relax and enjoy the book.I have never heard the author speak, but it sounds as if I should do so. I’m sure I can find something on line. Initially,I promised to write about each of the novels, but I didn’t.I got busy writing my own novel, a mystery, Hour of the Hawk. I started it last December and finished it -so I thought- in the spring. Since then I have done three revisions.I am paying close attention to what my readers are saying and revising accordingly. A mystery can’t sprawl and I don’t have Gabaldon’s license to indulge myself.
I appreciate your thoughtful response.
Hello. Comforting to hear that you follow the same ‘read recipe’: My conscience didn’t sit easy! As you say though, enjoyment and relaxation is an important component when reading – along with being challenged. There are many clips on youtube and DG has also appeared on many panels with Ron Moore, Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan so you’ll have no trouble locating – she’s her own best PR person. Best of luck with your writing. Will keep an eye open for your book – love the title Hour of the Hawk. My all time favourite crime/detective writer is Raymond Chandler. Can’t remember now which book of Gabaldon’s it was but I felt she ‘tweaked’ a humorous line from Chandler… “…blonde enough to make a bishop kick a hole through a strained glass window…” Nor can I remember DG’s line but it was too similar and mentioned a clergyman. Jolted me from the page! Her writing seems to indicate she is incredibly well read? Simulates Jane Austen (Northanger Abbey) with Lord John and Jamie at Ardsmuir discussing ‘the novel’… And the metaphysical John Donne, etc. Is that again part of her recipe: To also attract readers who have a background in literature? As you mentioned bodices and ripping – my classification is PhD Mills and Boon.
Good luck with publishing.
Thanks for this. As you can see you’re the first reader to comment on a post over a year old. Nice to get feedback.