Bad book review: Outlander

The following book review is vulgar and not very literary and I’m only part way through book three (Voyager) as I write this.

Readers may peruse at their own risk. Don’t @ me.

I’ve actively avoided this series for years. I’m not going to lie.

Outlander was first mentioned to me when I was in college, binging historical fiction to cleanse my palate of Plato and Shopenhauer. I had a worrying habit of reading Phillipa Gregory & Allison Weir novels instead of sleeping (the Wideacre trilogy is still my jam).

First, the first person who suggested it to me was my ex-boyfriend’s mom, which was weird. “Oh, you like to read, huh? But you haven’t read Outlander?”

Let’s drink to werewolf frig dancing and Russian existentialism!

No, lady with a real job, but I have read plenty of Russian existentialism and a handful of novels with flimsy plots held up by werewolf love scenes. I’ve also reveled in daydreams in which I’m Lizzie Bennett and instead of declining a proposal with a polite, demure, verbal bitch slap, I break Mr. Darcy’s stupid nose.

About the same time, I got fed up with using all of my grocery money for books (the old college blues) and started buying “historical romance” instead of the pricier “historical fiction.” I mean, it’s still history right? Uh, well some research may have been done for the books I read. Then again, maybe they didn’t feel they needed plot to hold together the banging? I mean the werewolves didn’t, why the hell would they?

So, I was also pretty jaded with anything that leaned romance in that moment. I kept reading the same old shitty horror paperbacks, historical epics, and boring old classics.

History is awesome, let’s bang!

Then, earlier this year the TV series goes on Netflix and I continue to actively avoid it. I keep watching all of my period drama and the algorithm keeps trying to tempt me — I see you’ve watched Versailles three times and you’ve watched every damn version of Wuthering Heights, maybe try something new?

But, I was steady in my resolve until I got sick. That’s really all it took, I was sick and unable to go on a walk, so I watched an episode. After I’d watched all four available seasons of the show, of course I had to read the books.

Goddamn it, it’s written in two interesting historical eras!!!

Sure, Claire and Jamie have irritating qualities which are amplified in the book. The actor playing Jamie sweetens up a bit of the character’s stubbornness with a charm that is lost in the pages and Claire is written colder than she’s delivered on screen.

My brain whenever Jamie is doing beefcake stuff…

However, the book is so much better overall. Diana Gabaldon’s meticulous research shines through. She manages to lace the drama junk food with interesting historical details. The finished product is stunning, it lends life to a time outside of our reach or comprehension.

That’s what I love about Outlander, what I love about the historical fic & classic lit genres in general: finding an emotional connection to a time completely outside our current realm of reality. It’s that feeling of connection that gets me. The fleeting and magical realization that the names we read in our history texts and genealogy research belong to real people who lived real lives kind of like ours.

Let’s go, Darcy.

Hating Darcy is a treat because in that hate, men like Darcy become real and relatable. Men who were just over-formal names or stiff, awkward models for wonky portraits become actual people with personalities and problems. That’s the magic of fic set long ago.

Also, there’s the matter of time travel — so, Gabaldon is also scratching the old sci-fi itch while she’s at it. I do appreciate her time-travel mechanism. Because I have embarrassing interests, I’ve read too many vague articles on ley lines and “places of power.” I love that someone’s finally put all the speculation to good narrative use.

Anyway, I’m writing this after only reading two of what’s to be at least nine books. So, to be continued…

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