Why You Should Read All 8 Outlander Novels: pt 2

outlander series pictureThis post is supposed to convince you to read The Outlander, the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s 8-book Outlander series. (A 9th book is in the offing.)

I say “supposed to” because looking back over the plot outline (see The Outlandish Companion by Gabaldon) and reading comment strings, I realize I have a difficult task before me.

The difficulty is not the vivid sex scenes. Those are quite lovely, as you will remember if you saw “The Wedding” episode of Starz series last summer. The difficulty is corporal punishment and what some call spousal abuse.

Now Gabaldon is quite clear that flogging is a BAD thing. Jamie Fraser’s scarred back is evidence of just how bad, although it takes a few books to document how it got that way. Spanking is another matter. Jamie says that his father punished him by application of a switch and look how well he turned out. Of course young Jamie was never punished unjustly and, although he found it hard to sit down for a few days, he didn’t resent his father. In fact, the “beating” was a great relief to his guilty conscience. So – when Claire Beauchamp puts herself and Jamie’s men in danger – and indeed her actions are very ill-advised- he spanks her.

Ever since the book was published in 1991, readers have been arguing about that. Personally, I found the argument interesting, but creepy. I decided that Gabaldon was just taking her inner sadomasochist out for a walk, and then I got on with reading. Yes, from time to time, she seems to skirt into the true romance territory of rape fantasy.

The obvious answer to the offended crowd is “Stop reading. Put the book down. Walk away. Give it to Goodwill with your next box of used clothes. Someone out there wants it.”

The Outlander has a great idea. Claire Randall, neé Beauchamp, is having a second honeymoon with her husband Frank in the Scottish Highlands in 1946. They have been separated during  the war because she was a nurse treating front-line wounded, and he was an intelligence officer in London. They hope to get pregnant now. Frank has come to research the Randall family’s genealogy. Claire is taking the opportunity to study local flora. Not only is she trained in western medicine, she has an interest in herbal treatment. She also has an unusual background. Orphaned as a child, she grew up with her uncle on archeology digs in Egypt. Important preparation for life in the HIghlands two and a half centuries ago.

Returning to their Inverness Bed and Breakfast, one rainy night in April 1946, Frank sees a figure in a kilt watching Claire at their window. Is this Claire’s wartime lover or a perhaps, a ghost?

On the Feast of Beltane, May 1st, she and Frank go to the nearby circle of standing stones to secretly witness, a dance by an equally secret group of local women, welcoming the sunrise. Claire returns the next day to get a sample of a certain blue flower, inadvertently touches one of the stones and gets sucked through time to 1743.

Of course it takes her a while to figure out that she has not simply fallen into the middle of a movie shoot, complete with kilted Highlanders and Frank’s red-coated look-alike. One of her first clues is that the look-alike tries to rape her. She is rescued by a kilted savage. In no time at all, she is treating a wounded Scot, despite the fact that the Scots can’t understand why an English woman is wandering around the highland moor in her shift.

Surely she must be an English spy.

Soon she finds herself revisiting -previsiting- historic ruins which she and Frank visited -will visit- only now the Castle Leoch is standing whole and invulnerable. Her only hope is to somehow escape and get back to the Stones and to Frank. Meanwhile, she finds herself practicing 18th century medicine. The time comes, during her attempt to get back, that the only way to avoid falling into Black Jack Randall’s clutches – he really is Frank’s remote forefather – is to marry Jamie Fraser, red-headed, six feet tall, commanding but reduced to menial labor because of an English warrant. It’s not really bigamy after all. Frank isn’t born yet, and if Claire isn’t careful, he may never be.

If that isn’t intriguing enough, Claire gets to stand on the edge of Loch Ness and see the legendary Water Horse. This is the beginning of her reputation as the White Lady, which comes in handy in the next book, Dragonfly in Amber.

Trivia question: who gave Claire a dragonfly in amber as a wedding gift?

If I could travel back in time, I would choose the 18th century to go to. It was not as old-fashioned as the 19th. Modern thinkers would feel at home there as rationalism and the scientific age began and early democracy was born. Claire finds it a challenge to be an independent minded woman then, cf wife spanking. She finds herself in a warrior society in a violent time, and does not take orders easily, cf marrying Jamie. Like most strong women in male dominated societies, however, she finds ways to take charge.

Okay, so you have to be a certain kind of reader, a bit rough and ready – for a good story, a good long story with a terrific idea and characters that grow. So does Gabaldon’s skill.

 

 

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Why You Should Read the 8 Outlander novels – pt 1

GabaldonDiana Gabaldon published her 8th Outlander novel –Written in My Own Heart’s Blood -in the summer of 2014 and the first 8 episodes of the first novel The Outlander appeared on Starz. I had never heard of Gabaldon and disliked historical romances, but watching the series hooked me. Between August and November, I downloaded all 8 novels on my iPad, one after the other and spent weeks immersed in the 18th century. My response was not always positive. https://115journals.com/2014/10/10/diana-gabaldon-outlandish-outlander/

So why do I recommend that you read them all?

I had the impression as I read the last one that it was the best of the lot and it would be hard to understand it if you hadn’t read the others. You could buy Gabaldon’s The Outlandish Companion, the most expensive of her books on iTunes and get plot summaries of the first four, really detailed summaries. They come in handy if you have read them, but have forgotten why Jamie feels responsible when Stephen Bonnet turns out to be a cad, but I don’t recommend reading them instead of the books because you’d miss all the fun.

Above all else, Gabaldon is an exuberant writer. She is exuberant about sex as you have already discovered if you watched the series. The episode called “The Wedding” was not one you would have wanted to watch with your parents or your children. There was more naked flesh per hour than has ever been seen outside of porn. Her main characters Claire, from the 20th century, and Jamie, from the 18th, not only have great sex in every possible location and position, across 35 years, they genuinely adore each other in sickness and in health and deathly injury and post traumatic stress, in grief, in long separation, in loss and in wealth. All this, despite the fact that each presumes the other dead at times and Claire is in her early 60’s in the 8th book, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood.

Gabaldon does all her own research, which is extensive particularly with regard to military history, medicine in both relevant centuries, sailing ships and whore houses, among others. She says that she doesn’t do drafts and that her editor doesn’t interfere, but lets her write a book as long as she wants. (I’m curious what he does do.) Reviewers do not always agree that these are positives. Bethany of Postcards from Purgatory, for example, sees the last book as one of the worst along with The Fiery Cross, the 5th book. http://postcardsfrompurgatory.com/2014/07/04/final-thoughts-on-diana-gabaldons-written-in-my-own-hearts-blood-by-bethany/  Others describe it as Gabaldon’s best. That makes me feel better, but I’m a notorious softie. When I’m hooked by a book, I have no critical judgement.

Those who don’t like Written in My Own Heart’s Blood complain about the tedious battle scenes. Like the 7th book, An Echo in the Bone, the 8th is set mostly during the American Revolution, including obscure battles that give the author leeway to invent. Jamie was expected to fight on the British side because he had been given a large land grant by the British authorities, but, of course, he is a Scot through and through and not much given to supporting King George. Both Claire and the reviewers complain that they didn’t pay close enough attention in history class. I was caught up in the sheer improvisation of the battles. No one seemed to know what they were doing, they just ad libbed. In the end, they often couldn’t even tell who had won.

While I couldn’t always tell what was going on either as the battle lines changed, I was intrigued by descriptions of swordplay, the use of guns and mortar, the fate of the horses and one particular donkey.

The lines seemed to be very permeable. Jamie was welcomed into the British camp when his relative was dying and, at one point Lord John, a high ranking officer in the British army masquerades as a rebel soldier -with one eye.

The Brianna/Roger story line is particularly suspenseful, involving the search for Jem across two centuries. Suppose you tried to travel through time and ended up in the wrong era.

I enjoyed the book on a more general level because it is full of joi de vivre, of life affirming energy even in its darkest moments when Claire and the unobservant reader think that Jamie is lost. I like the idea of the large family and their loyalty to each other as they muddle through life. And war. Then, of course, there is Gabaldon’s usual quota of comic scenes, one in which William discovers who his real father is by laying eyes on him, and another when Claire’s two 18th century husbands face off against each other. Mostly, I love the books because they are full of love.

Initially, the 8th book was supposed to be the last, but no longer. That’s a good thing because there are still a number of loose ends. Call this sloppy, as some reviewers do, or just another advantage of reading an exuberant, prolific writer.

I intend to write several more posts on why you should read all eight novels, giving highlights of each book in turn.

Gabaldon on Forgiving the Rapist

drums of autumn

Okay, now I’m taking moral advice from a romance novel and me a philosophy major!

The novel in question is Diane Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn, the fourth in her Outlander series and the subject in question is forgiveness, specifically forgiveness for a rapist.

I’m nearing the end of this book and shamefully already plotting to order the fifth on my iPad. I used to have such refined tastes in reading. This book is not just a bodice ripper. It’s a skirt ripper and a shift ripper. Drawers or underwear are just removed and so require no mending. Mending is a big deal in the 18th century. Clothes are frequently reduced to rags and then replaced miraculously by a rich and generous, usually new-found relative. (How come I never find mine?)

But enough levity, now to the serious moral question.

Jamie, now in his 40s and living in 1760s North Carolina has a heart-to-heart discussion with a time-traveling woman on the subject of rape and whether vengeance or forgiveness is the appropriate response.

Both have some experience of rape as a good many of Gabaldon’s readers do, no doubt. Either she does or she has done good research. Since we are dealing here with the Highland clan warrior culture, killing the assailant is presented as an option. Those of us reared in the Christian tradition, even if lapsed, don’t leap to that as the answer, but hang on, Jamie is Catholic. Maybe it’s more a personal response.

This series is long and over the years, Jamie has discovered that time takes its own revenge and forgiveness is the better option.

Here is where the Gabaldon’s insight comes in: Jamie says that it is an on-going process that has to be renewed each day. I have noticed that myself and forgiveness comes harder some days.

Some days the whole terrible episode gets re-experienced in vivid detail, as it does for Jamie after that conversation, as it may well do for some readers after they read this part of the book.

On such a day, you can feel raw, as if you have no protective skin. No use even aiming for forgiveness then. Best to sit on a porch swing listening to the pine trees purr, watch the flitting birds, raise your eyes to the mountain ridge. Do something peaceful and healing wherever you are. Forgive yourself for hurting.

 

Diana Gabaldon – outlandish outlander

outlander

(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.

 

 

 

Square One Writer’s Block

The Writer by Mendelsohn Joe, 1982

The Writer by Mendelsohn Joe, 1982

Okay, I need a new direction. Writing the blog post on Cockroaches took three days and was absorbing. I had to go back through it on my iPad reminding myself of names and sorting out the red herrings from the real resolution. I neglected to say in my review that the plot was not memorable.

The difficulty arrives from the fact that I’m more or less stuck here in a mountain village in Kern County, California far from Toronto, as a result of a family illness. There are days when I am superfluous to need, but then again, a relapse occurs and I’m fully involved. I don’t even have time to think. Other days like this one, I am at loose ends despite bear incursions.

Because I’m a big reader of mysteries, several people have suggested that I write a mystery. I thought about it.

Okay… I’d need a crime, a locale and a detective. I could set it here in this mountain village. Wait Mar Preston has already done in Payback, although I didn’t recognize the happy, friendly village I know in the misanthropic town she depicted. Besides hers had a town hall, whereas the real place has only one centre of administration, the club house. This village is unincorporated. In other words even its roads are private property and privately maintained. The streets are patrolled by security guards, although the sheriff rides in for serious matters. So I suppose I could write a truer picture of our remote mountain valley.

Then I’d need a crime. Darn. Something bad would have to happen. Something seriously bad. What stops me there is my own personal experience. My father had a way of being on the edge of seriously bad stuff. After his death, three different police forces spent $1,000,000 trying to figure out exactly what. I can only say it was not worth every penny. Even if he did look exactly like the police drawing. (See home page for ebook.)

Most of all, I don’t have a scientific background except for Biology 101 which taught me how to dissect a pig embryo. I suppose I could make it all up from my extensive reading and my watching of CSI, but I am loath to do so. It’s possible that television writers take liberties with fact. And I have no experience of group work in policing.

I could write about group life in a high school prep room. Pretty cut-throat especially before smoking was outlawed.

Actually I could depict two older women, who have no investigative qualifications except curiosity. And mystery reading. One of them, the elder, would be irrepressibly garrulous, a little deaf and charmingly dotty who could worm information out of a stone wall. The other an ex-English teacher, more reticent, but with a mind like a steel trap. I suppose Clara would want a slice of the royalties. Anyway, that sounds too fey and Agatha Christie has already captured the market.

I’m reminded of the conversation between the writer and the doctor at a party. Doctor: When I retire, I’m going to write a novel. Writer: And when I retire, I’m going to take up medicine.

So, no, I think not.

I could find another indecipherable novel like The Luminaries, study it carefully and blog about it. The Luminaries post draws about 150 hits a week, once 164 in one day. Any suggestions?

I have embarked on the project of following The Outlanders by Diana Gabaldon on Starz and reading the books, but those stories are pretty decipherable. They are historical romances, no matter what the author says.

I could start writing a memoir about this illness, but the patient will write her own as and when.

For the time being, I sit here on another sunny warm day on the edge of the pine wood, writing a blog about my inability to get a good idea. I swear I’ve marked a hundred “personal” essays from students just like this.

Help!