Outlander by Diana Gabaldon | Rating: ★★★★★
"I can bear pain myself," he said softly, "but I couldna bear yours. That would take more strength than I have.”
Diana Gabaldon's wildly popular Outlander series began in 1991 (as old as myself!) with its opener, also titled Outlander, and took us on a delectable tale of time travel, romance and strength. Its loyal fanbase has never wavered in its support towards the now-classic novels, and with that sort of love, curiosity is constantly sparked. Gabaldon is deserving of all the praise and interest and then some, and proves so within the first few chapters of this love story.
Due to renewed popularity through its Starz adaptation in late 2014, Outlander is just as popular as ever and quickly gaining new fans even now in the decades since is original publication. Which is fantastic and every bit of deserving. You see, if you haven't had the chance to pick up Outlander, you should know this: Gabaldon's writing is delicious, thrilling, sexy--captivating to the highest degree, therefore, it is quite easy to see why it is so beloved and continues to stand the test of time.
Its premise is simple: Claire Randall, a nurse from the 1940s, has just settled back into life with her husband after the war. Life seems to be back on the track to becoming ordinary again as the two lovers travel and embrace married life once more after being apart for so long.
And so, the two embarked on a second honeymoon to celebrate being reunited and by all accounts the trip is sweet, romantic, and filled with a richly painted history. But sometimes life gets in the way of these things, and it isn't at all what one would suspect.
After observing the land for what it is--druids, history, mythology, etc--Claire somehow travels through time and lands in the year 1743--a world that is vastly different from her own time. At first she isn't certain on what happened--perhaps she is dreaming, perhaps this and that went wrong--but she soon figures out that stepping between an ancient series of standing stones, a circle with a world of folklore, somehow transported her back in time.
But how can this be possible?
Were those legends true?
And how can she get back home, to her time, to her beloved Frank?
Gabaldon inrigues readers from the shift in times, instantly, and weaves us through the tale of Claire Randall. Claire is a thoughtful, strong, fascinating narrator that readers will be very into her path. I found myself on the edge of my seat often and my love for Claire Randall is as strong as can be. I've not loved a narrator quite like I love her and find that she is, perhaps, one of the best leading ladies in literature from our time.
Let's talk details, shall we? I loved how richly told the history is and how everything ties into each other one way or another. Because of Claire's exposure to historical events by the hand of her husband, who is naturally a historian, there are many scenes where it helps her and it also feels surreal in the best sort of way. Can you imagine reading, or hearing, about history so often only to get to witness it first hand? Outlander is perfect because it feels real, it feels intense, and seeing Claire live out history and explore these things for her own, as she adjusts to life and begins to wonder if she will ever get back to her own.
I repeat: intense. This is my go-to-word when thinking of Outlander and Gabaldon's writing. There is something so striking and intimate about the way the story unfolds, the way it is told, and I feel so incredibly attached to it.
Onto the love story. There are two major love stories within in. One, is Claire's relationship with Frank which has its faults and although we don't see much of it when Claire is pushed through time, it's still very important to acknowledge. Things grow confusing and change with the distance--we can't help but wonder, as readers, what Frank is thinking on the other side of time--and there's no way it can ever, completely, go back to the way it was should Claire return home.
(Her second, powerful and moving relationship is with James Fraser. I'll get to that in a moment...)
For two reasons: Frank's sadistic ancestor (who I don't want to name because I loathe this guy, okay?) and James Fraser, a sweet Scot who Claire ends up marrying in the past. Jamie Fraser, you've heard of. Even if you've never read or watched the show, it's likely you've heard of him because he is a solid character. He is basically everyone's book boyfriend and we can all collectively swoon over him later.
I'm going to use that word "intense" again to describe Jamie and Claire's scenes because, again, it's just about the only word that can be used and give the relationship justice. In an unlikely pairing, the two command equal respect of one another (despite hitches and more than a few flaws/differences of upbringing) but there's just something strong between them.
In a few words, they are equal. They are passion. They are alive. They are a team. They will make you hop around with joy and tears and everything. They are everything because they are, well, everything. It's easy to see why Claire, when faced with the ability to go back to her own time, is hesitant to leave him behind and ultimately stays.
Along the way, Claire faces troubles in many ways--whether that be the mysterious woman she has befriended, many Scots, a disgruntled young woman who has deep feelings for Jamie, witchcraft charges, breaking a loved one out of jail, facing a terrifying doppelganger of her husband and general confusion over her feelings and whether or not this is all really happening, there are many plotlines tied together carefully for the reader to enjoy and wonder.
Overall, Outlander is a beautiful love story that is unique and fast paced. The perfect read if you want to lose yourself in something grand and embrace a more fantastical side to life. It has its flaws, sure, and will not be for everyone, but it is certainly a classic of our times and a must-read for literature buffs with a taste for romance. I look forward to reading the rest of the series, losing myself in its pages and details, and know there will come a day where I will reread it again and again.
Trigger warnings: given the timeline for it, there are quite a few things that can be triggering for readers including, but not limited to, sexual assault. Please, take care of yourself before picking up this novel and be certain. Thank you!