Outlander (Outlander #1)
by Diana Gabaldon
Recommended to Stacy by: I saw the TV series first
Recommended for: Lovers of Language, Historical Buffs, People who don't mind sex in their books
Read from September 17 to November 6, 2014
This book, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, was absolutely blissful to read: every time I fell back into it, it swept me away to a lost world, wrapping me warmly with its luxurious language and pricking my mind with its intricate and accurate details.
I listened to this book in Audible format. In fact, it was the first audio book I've ever heard, and now that I have been spoiled by it, I will listen to all of Gabaldon's series in audio format. On top of that, there could be few other books that I would have preferred to hear as my first audiobook because the narrator, Davina Porter, was completely mesmerizing. Even though her voice sounded a bit older than Claire's should have been, after a while it didn't really matter because her range of accents was perfectly pronounced, and she could switch from British, to Scottish, to French with such ease that I almost forgot at times that they were all read by one woman! She is an amazing talent.
I began to wonder if all audiobook narrators were as talented and effortless as Ms. Porter was; I could not imagine that all audiobooks sound as wonderful as this. But just to make sure, I Googled her, and found that my prediction had been confirmed: she is paramount among her colleagues, one of the most talented voices to record audiobooks, and famous for her readings of Victorian Classics.
In a biographical article in AudioFile Magazine (http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/narrators/davina-porter/), they write that she has recorded more than 100 books and that, "[her] voice is surely one of the most elegant and refined in audiobooks, giving the Victorian classics fluid presentation. She's able to capture historical settings with splendid clarity and yet convey the harsh realities of the period." I could not have explained it more perfectly, myself! I truly believe that it was Ms. Porter's narration that made me adore this text so much. I often wonder, had I read this book in print form, would I have enjoyed it so completely. And while I'm sure I would have, I know that Ms. Porter's rendition added to it in leaps and bounds!
And, while I could gush endlessly about the beauty of the narration, what of the story? I, like many, watched the first half of the TV Outlander series on Stars earlier this fall; in fact, that was my inspiration for wanting to read the book – I was desperate to know how it would go from its cliffhanger mid-season ending. So I had to read the books. When I went onto Goodreads to mark it as “Currently Reading,” I noticed the high average rating, but some mixed reviews: many people wanted to put it down as a Romance novel (even bookstores market it as such); one reviewer even said that it was a “trash novel for lit nerds”; another reviewer compared it to 50 Shades of Grey. Reading these reviews gave me visions of some trashy porn-on-the-page book, poorly-written and jumping from one sexual romp to the next. So I was completely taken aback when I actually began to listen to it! How could anyone claim this novel as trash or compare to that god-forsaken, poorly-written book (I honestly gave 50 Shades of Grey the good-ole college try, but the writing was so horrendous that I couldn’t get past the first chapter – I seriously felt my brain cells rotting away as I read it).
Then it hit me: the sex in Outlander makes people uncomfortable. But why? Sex is a natural occurrence for most, necessary for the preservation of our species, and the sex in this book was superior to most other descriptions I had ever read. It was not crass or vulgar – the descriptions were written sensually and in good taste, referring directly to the act, but without the need to into too many grotesque details. Even those scenes with Captain Randall left some things to the imagination. In fact, this was some of the classiest sex I’d ever read on the page! The writing was gorgeous, and it gave just enough information so that I could understand the effects of the scene, without having to divulge too much (think more “Playboy” than “Hustler” – there’s a difference!).
So why would people consider it trash? I mean, there is sex in other Fantasy novels that is much more descriptive, but you’d never refer to those novels as “trash”: The Wise Man’s Fear is the first that comes to mind. In fact, in Rothfuss’s WMF, the main character spends an obscene amount of time rolling through the grass with all kinds of different women, but no one called that a Romance novel or “trash for lit nerds”. They called it “great story-telling.” So what’s the difference?
And that is what struck me the most: If Outlander had been written by a male author, and centered on a male protagonist, we would have called it Literature, with a capital L (or at the very least Fantasy, with a capital F)! But when a female writes about a female character having sex, all the sudden it MUST be labeled as “trash” and “romance.” And in Outlander, Claire even marries Jamie before she does anything at all intimate! Kvothe never marries anyone in WMF, but that doesn’t stop him from sleeping with all of them that are willing, and no one refers to him as a “whore who uses time-travel as an excuse to commit adultery with a hunky Scot”, as one reviewer wrote about Outlander.
This book is beautifully-written, extensively-researched, perfectly-plotted, fictional Literature. Is there sex? Yes. A lot of it. And some sex that might make some readers rather uncomfortable. However, the novel is not trash, and lit nerds, like me, will love it for its specific diction, descriptive imagery, and accurate historical details.
I have already started listening to the second book in the series, Dragonfly in Amber, and so far it is even more intriguing that the first (although I have heard that it draws out a bit in the Paris scenes – I’ll have to wait and see). I am very excited to have finally found this series, and I very much look forward to reading/listening to every single installment.