Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, NY: Bantam, 1991.
English nurse Claire and husband Frank take a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands in 1945 after the war. When Claire walks through a circle of standing stones in an ancient henge, she’s transported through time to 1743 where she encounters evil ancestors of her husband, extremely heavily armed Scotsmen, and wild love and passion in between all the treachery and clan warfare.
I had a hard time getting into Outlander at first, even once we’d travelled back in time with Claire. I kept expecting different things to happen. I didn’t like Frank, Claire’s husband in “our” time, and I felt like something was missing for that first part of the narrative. I only realized later that Frank’s lack of appeal and Claire’s half-lived life was written that way deliberately, so that it was easy to leave Frank behind. I spent the better part of the first half of the book thinking that a time travel romance story was about getting back to the one you left, and while Claire does try to get there, it’s clear that she was destined to find her true life with Jaime.
Perhaps I’m too used to the Doctor Who model of time travel, where nothing bad really happens to the characters when they break the rules of the universe they’re visiting. Lots of bad things happen to Claire – and she doesn’t learn – she can’t, obviously, change who she is, and her time governs her impulses, but she gets into lots of trouble because she follows her instincts and her instincts are out of her time. Ultimately, that’s why we like her, because as much as she tries to blend in to survive, she can’t hide the fact that she’s modern woman.
Outlander isn’t solely a romance, or a traditional sci-fi book, or just historical fiction, and I had to remember that when I was getting impatient with all the quite obvious signs that Claire was going to travel back in time – genealogy charts of her friends and family, a palm-reading that shows she has two lifelines – that this wasn’t necessarily a sci-fi novel where everyone knows how time travel works and what’s supposed to happen. Perhaps the romance plot would be as much of a surprise to sci-fi readers……
There are some steamy scenes, though, if you regularly read romance, you’ve surely read worse (or better). There is also violence and things that happen to Claire that made me deeply uncomfortable, and to Jaime, too, and aren’t normally what I want to read about, but were alternately socially acceptable form of punishment and done by a sadistic villain, so, it’s not like they came out of nowhere. Still, if I could have read the non-violent, non-torture, non-marital-beating version of the book, I think I would have enjoyed it even more.
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