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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon


Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon—when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an "outlander"—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire's destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life ...and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

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This is a fairly well-known book, though I wasn't particularly aware of the fact until recently. As such, I'm sure there are any number of reviews done by far more knowledgeable people than me that cover it. Still, I'll jot down a few of my own thoughts about it here, for the sake of writing some sort of review of it.



I really enjoyed this book, and even though it has a fairly epic scope, and covers material and storylines that most authors would likely have broken up into several books, it was all tied together well, and felt like a single work. Because of its expansive nature, it's difficult to assimilate it all into a general feeling about it, and I expect that I'll be processing the various bits of it in my head for some time to come. Which is a good thing I think. I always like it when a book gets me thinking and mulling over various aspects of the story and what can or could have happened if things went just a bit differently.

Claire is a rather remarkable character. A strong, independent woman, possessed of an innate practicality that makes her almost uniquely qualified to handle the situation that she finds herself in. Right from the start after her trip backwards in time, before she's even really realized what's happened, she's taking it all in stride, and acting more concerned for the wounded Jaime than she is for her own situation. Most people in her place would likely have a good freak out at some point over what's happened, but she never really seems to. Instead, she remains grounded, and focused on whatever problem(s) are immediately to hand, though still worrying away at the larger problems she faces in the back of her mind. Fully self-confident, she never hesitates to bark orders at others when it comes to tending patients brought before her, regardless of who the person is that she's giving the orders to. Nor does she hold back in her speech to fit common notions of how a woman should and shouldn't talk, but unashamedly lets loose with strings of profanity when provoked or frustrated, often to the awe and shock of those around her. A more timid woman likely wouldn't have been able to stand up to the Scotsmen she found herself surrounded by, and likely wouldn't have fared as well as Claire does overall. She manages to earn the respect, grudging or otherwise, of most of the men around her with her forthright, practical, and uncomplaining attitude, as well as her competence and courage in handling most situations that she finds herself in.

Jaime is in many ways a typical Highlander, though he has enough character facets that its hard to pin him down a lot of the time. On one level, he holds fast to the values and attitudes that he was brought up with, but on another he's fairly progressive for his time and place, likely owing to his education which has been a rather more expansive than most Scotsmen of his age and station likely had. He points out to Claire at one point that most of the people around them haven't ever been further than a day's ride away from where they were born, if that far, whereas he himself has been fairly well traveled, having spent a considerable time in France and in parts of Spain presumably while fighting as a mercenary for the French. Perhaps it is that bit of worldliness that he's gained that enables him to accept Claire as she is, both her personality and her nationality, for likely not many of his fellows among the Scots would have been as willing to marry an Englishwoman. More likely it's just that he grew up among strong-willed, assertive women, as his mother reportedly was such, and his sister as well. Whatever the case, Jaime and Claire are particularly well suited to one another, even if the marriage isn't a love match to begin with.

No doubt I could go on at length about some of the aspects of the sort of time travel involved here, or about some of the many other interesting characters and events in the book, but I'd end up getting rather spoilery I'm sure, and I try to avoid that with my reviews. I'll suffice it to say that there were enough little things in the book that bothered me, some that I can't even really put my finger on, that I really debated over whether I'd give this book 4 stars or 5. In the end, however, the fact that it's made me think about things so much related to it bumps it up to the full 5 stars. Honestly though, I could still go either way with it. It's an excellent book to be sure, and one I'd highly recommend to others, but still I debate...and likely will for some time yet.

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