Author: Diana Gabaldon
Publication Date: 1991
How I Found It: One of my dearest friends loves this series. Plus there's a new Starz series about it on now.
Date Completed: 4/12/16
Summary: Claire stumbles into a time warp between post-WWII Scotland and its 1700s, rugged predecessor. As she adapts to her new era and tries to find a way home, she becomes entangled both in the political troubles of the day and an unexpected love affair.
What I Thought: Guys, I really wanted to like this one. One of my most cherished friends, with whom I have talked books for nearly two decades now, recommended it. It's one of her all-time favorites. Frankly, I was surprised it took me this long to get to. It's extremely popular in its own right. In fact, you may have noticed the recent uptick in infatuation as Starz is partway through the second season of a television adaptation.
With all that in mind, I sat down to the massively long tome. Seriously. This thing is Game of Thrones length. Sidebar: I feel like Gabaldon and George R. R. Martin are probably friends. Like, they hang out at author things together and exchange plot ideas and commiserate over feeling locked into one popular series for the entirety of their careers. If none of this is true, it probably should be. The first couple hundred pages I felt really good about. I liked the time twist and seeing Claire try to adjust to life several hundred years before her own birth. Gabaldon's writing is not bad and her characters are acceptably decent. Not ground-breaking or super well-developed, but good enough to find yourself at least mildly invested in their journeys.
Then, things took a sharp downward turn.
Claire is forced into a marriage to protect her politically. After all, the Scottish seem to think she's an English spy and the English want her for reasons I never quite understood. I get it, she's a novelty and seems out of place, but I didn't really buy the intensity of her situation. Of course, I've never been a 18th century woman forced to bend to the whims and wills of the men around her; we'll get to that in a second.
Ok, so we set aside the fact that Claire is actually already married in the 1940s timeline. She doesn't bother to tell anyone that; she just lets them believe her husband is dead. Suddenly, she's a time-traveling bigamist who is happily consummating her new marriage on practically every page. This is where Gabaldon really started to lose me. I get it. The sex is good (despite new husband Jamie's supposed virginity and naiveté). We don't need to read about it that much. These two are like rabbits. Annoying, infatuated rabbits who cannot seem to get anything else accomplished. At this point, though, I had already read past the length of a normal book and felt invested. I wanted to give the thing a fair shot. So, I charged ahead, albeit with a healthy about of skepticism and trepidation now along for the ride.
Gabaldon cuts the hanky-panky down to once a chapter or so (still excessive) and gets back to the political problems at hand. The Scottish and the English don't like each other and both Claire and Jamie have targets on their backs for various reasons.Thus proceeds the rest of the book - the two find themselves increasingly entangled in the action. Each have the opportunity to rescue the other.
You'd think that throughout that second half, I would found less to be annoyed by. Yet, there was so much. Rape is a common theme throughout the story. I understand that the 1700s were a different time and sex was treated much differently than it is now, particularly in regard to consent. Still, I the continued objectification of women really bothered me, even if Claire made half-hearted attempts to rebuff it.
Even the relationship between Claire and Jamie, which the reader is clearly supposed to idolized, ran rampant with unnecessary violence. In one scene, Jamie forces her to bed, even though she does not want to. World, when will we all understand and accept that rape can happen within the confines of marriage? In another instance, Jamie beats Claire badly as punishment for her actions. While at first she is rankled by the act, she eventually comes around, saying, "On the whole, though,[the beating] was bearable, and I grudgingly began to consider that Jamie might have been right, though I still wanted to strangle him." I absolutely am not ok with her acceptance of spousal abuse. Cultural implications be damned. These things are never ok and Gabaldon's use of them within the story, particularly by protagonist characters, felt very wrong to me. Historically accuracy is fine, but let's not glamorize the harsh realities of eras gone by.
In the end, I simply could not enjoy much of this book. So much sex and violence and sexual violence. It reads like what it has become - a Starz drama meant to titillate and tantalize against a historical backdrop. While I do like the idea of understanding what daily life would have been for regular people in different eras, I think that picture can be accomplished without the Harlequin theatrics.
Will I Re-Read: Nope
A Reduced Review: Despite its intense popularity, I simply couldn't get past some pretty glaring issues within this novel.