The Shameful Book Club: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

220px-Outlander-1991_1st_Edition_coverWhat a surprise! I’m behind on my posting. February was romance, because I am a walking cliche. I decided on Outlander because I really enjoyed the show, and everyone keeps gifting me copies of the book. And rightly so, the book seems to have everything I love in it: time travel, Scotland, historical fiction, hot Scots, some light witchcraft, castles, sexy-times, everything! And yet, I was really disappointed. I don’t want to enrage my many friends who love this series, but I honestly don’t see what everyone else sees in it. If you would like to enlighten me, I encourage you to do so in the comments.

At first, I was pretty excited. I loved the setting, the magick, the time travel, and the characters. The show is such a good time, and my mom and I really had fun watching season one together with some red wine! I thought perhaps the book would offer the same thrills, but I can safely say that this is one of those times where the adaptation is better than the book. At least for me. But it didn’t start all bad! The beginning of the book was very strong. Claire was incredibly interesting, and I really liked her agency and attitude. It was intriguing to follow a woman who had just been through a war — who had served as a nurse and saw all kinds of horror — as she tried to reacclimate herself to life as a woman in “polite” society. What would she do now? Where was her place? And I was especially interested in her relationship with Frank, having spent most of their married life apart and under extreme stress due to the war. I want that book…the book where Claire and Frank put their marriage back together. Instead, Outlander is like the exact opposite. It’s a woman leaving her very excellent husband for some man-child.

But yeah, modern witches dancing around the standing stones…I’m definitely there for that. Scotland at any point in time…count me in. And then time travel and historical peril…there for that as well. What I’m not really interested in is constant rape and also a pathetic love story. I know everyone gets really excited about Claire and Jamie, and in the show their connection is pretty hot. I was super excited for a steamy romance and couldn’t wait to enjoy the electric connection between these two characters. But I waited, and waited…still waiting. WHERE IS IT?? They get married out of necessity and bicker the whole time (not the hot kind of bickering, either), show no real compatibility whatsoever, and then suddenly Claire is choosing Jamie over Frank and making some very extreme sacrifices for him.

1280_Outlander_Finale_Frasers

These two? Definitely hot. Book version? Not. Taken from ET online.

Some may argue that Jamie does so much for Claire, saving her life etc., but every time he does this he seems to justify it by saying she’s his wife and he is duty bound. That’s not romantic. And she seems to approach her affection toward him in the same way. It goes on like this for most of the near-900 page book, until suddenly they’re deeply in love with each other. This happens when *spoiler* Claire decides not to take her opportunity to return to her timeline and instead stays with Jamie because suddenly he’s the one for her. I see no evidence of this emotion previously in the book. I have a very hard time accepting, from what I saw between the two of them, that Claire’s relationship with Jamie was worth forever leaving her wonderful husband that she really loved and had a great relationship with, risking her life to (insert: lack of modern medicine, evil English officers, witch trials, violence against women, violence from other clans, violence from her clans, general violence), or constant threat of rape. NOT. WORTH. IT.

And let’s talk about the whole Frank/Jack Randall thing. I get it 100%. I actually like it! What a cool idea to encounter your husband’s ancestor in the past, and then discover that he’s absolutely wretched. Very interesting concept! What I don’t like is that Jack basically takes the place of Frank, and having Jack be this monster, our memories of Frank are distorted. I feel like it was a cheap trick to turn Claire and the readers against Frank and against her old life, when in reality it should make her want to go back to her old life more. This is a man who is hunting her and Jamie down like dogs , delights in rape and torture, AND plunges Claire into the uncanny valley every time she sees him. Why do you want to exist anywhere near someone like that when you can have the good version, who’s waiting for you at home. Also, just for the record, Jack’s toxic obsession with Jamie is what turned my Grandmother off of this series. Just letting that be known.

Concerning the constant rapes/attempted rapes/threat of rape: I know we’re in 18th century Scotland and there is lots of fighting and violence. I know that rape was perhaps more common, or at least more accepted. But come on! Claire is nearly raped like 5 times in this book, including by her new husband who threatens to take her against her will because what she wants doesn’t matter and he’s her husband blahblahblah. And then Jamie actually is raped and tortured. Rape is used as a plot device so often that it trivializes the trauma and brutality of the act. It also stressed me the f*** out. I don’t really feel the need to have my historical romance peppered with multiple instances of sexual assault, thanks, especially when I’m just trying to have a good time. It’s Valentine’s Day.

This bothers me as a plot device perhaps more than others because I have a problem with it myself. Not with using rape specifically, but with blowing the stakes up super high and using very extreme actions to move plot and character development along. I tend to go right to death, or assault, or OD when I’m writing. I need to be reminded a lot that it doesn’t always require that much trauma to create motivation. A little dab with do ya, folks!

On top of all  of that, I also found the book to be very boring. I listened to it on audiobook and found myself zoning out a lot more frequently than I do with other books, even with it on 2x speed. A lot of the story felt drawn out to me, and much of it was not really critical to the main goals of the story. I understanding trying to build the world and get Claire rooted in this new existence, but we did not need so much of the mundane in this one. Especially considering that the book is pretty long. And frankly, the sex scenes weren’t worth the rest of it. They were lacking, on pretty much every level. The only portion of the book that I enjoyed was the witch trial. I loved seeing that small tidbit of history and having Claire wrapped up in it. It was also fascinating that there was another woman in her shoes, there against her will Anything that has to do with witches is fun for me, but this is not surprising. I’m a bit witchy myself. I wish, with the all of the magick that got her in this situation, there was more magick sprinkled throughout. Sadly, this was not the case.

So, it gives me a heavy heart to say that this was the first of my 2017 Shameful Book Club reads that didn’t really do it for me. I read 1984 in March and The Mists of Avalon in April. I’m still working my way through Mists (it’s another near-900 read), but hopefully I’ll have posts up for each soon. May is nonfiction, and I will be reading Under the Banner of Heaven finally. This Jon Krakauer classic combines two of my many obsessions: true crime and the fundamentalist LDS church. It follows the true case of two brothers who claimed God commanded that they commit a horrendous double murder. I’ve had this one on my shelf for about four years. I bought it after I started to become more interested in nonfiction work, and after I got really sucked into Sister Wives on TLC. The fundamentalist groups of the Mormon church are fascinating, and it reminds me why I’m a heathen. June, which is a kind of free month where I ask another librarian to offer a suggest (reader’s advisory), will be Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I hope you can read along with me for one or both of these excellent books!

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