This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

There's a real 'wow' factor in reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It was recommended to me three years ago and I never read it. Then, a few months ago, I felt like treating myself in the store - I think I had a coupon - so I indulged in a purchase of something different and new, Outlander. It's such a nice feeling to get something you're not sure of at a good price, experiencing adventurousness without a risk of buyer's regret. And, then, it turns out to be fun. I'm sure you know the feeling.

So, I let the book sit on a shelf for a couple of months. After I finished the Sookie Stackhouse marathon I recently undertook, I felt the fat, blue Outlander book calling me. I don't know why, and I had serious doubts about whether I'd would or wouldn't be able to finish a mammoth-sized book like it. The first few pages were pleasant, uneventful and encouraging. Yes, I realize that the adjective 'uneventful' does not seem to jibe with 'encouraging,' but it was, so there.

And, 'uneventful' seems to be, oddly, one of the things I liked a lot about some parts of this book. Make no mistake, there are tons of adventures and romance in its various incarnations (setting, love affairs, characters who will from now on inhabit fiction because they're so real and lovable in one way or another). There are hugely intriguing bits of history (though I don't know about the accuracy and am not terribly concerned about it as this is, after all, fiction) and really, really intriguing turns regarding characters and there's definitely that thing that makes a reader stop and stare somewhere away from the page imagining the 'what if's' that come to mind. In other words, there's a lot in it that illustrates why storytelling is so important to the human species.

But, I have to say that I enjoyed the pages describing main character Claire's forays into medicinal botany and the minutiae of daily living in the 18th century. It was cool to dip in and read a few pages about life in this fictitious world kind of like I was a voyeur who thought, 'Okay, now I'll look through the neighbors' window a little, entertain myself, check in, see what's going on.' Only, of course, reading a book isn't immoral or illegal, so the pleasure came without guilt. Sweet.

Tons of violence characterize the book. I got steamed and angst-ridden when Jamie, the hero, behaved in a very un-21st century manner toward his wife. Frustrating it was that he could be kind of right and his behavior kind of understandable whilst doing these horrible things. I vented on some online book forums. But, of course, the fact that I got so involved and was able to see different sides in something so abhorrent in anyone's eyes in the modern day was an argument itself that here was a book well-written with well-rounded real-person characters. They do seem like real people. I guess in approximately 850 pages you can dot that as a writer. Well, I mean skill is important, but the length allows a way to carve out characters that shorter stories won't allow. And, then, when you know you have a few more books of similar length to continue the story? You can slowly unfurl these characters' lives for the reader and expose them for scrutiny with almost (okay, I'm exaggerating) the pace and complexity of a real life.

I plunged right into the next in the Outlander series, Dragonfly in Amber, which I found presented unexpected news and events from the Outlander world, funny since I had read spoilers and thought I knew what was coming. So, now I can read on in the series and concurrently read spoilers on the web (though, admittedly, never with a great deal of care so as not to really endanger my reading of the books) and not (hopefully, but where the hope has a good track record) spoil the actual books before I've gotten to them. This is great since, as you know, reading series books years after they were begun runs the risk of learning outcomes you'd rather not yet know or else endeavoring to engage in unnatural levels of discipline and restraint (read: keeping away from the internet to research the author, books, reviews and community opinions on the series). It's hard enough to keep from eating that extra cookie in the evening; no one needs to limit his or her indulgence on a great, newly-found lit-feast. Don't you think?

Surprisingly, there are those who seem very much taken with (almost) anger for the series and its writer's decisions for this and that in the books. To each her own, I suppose. So far, though, I quite like them.

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