Saturday, 27 July 2013

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I was working in a bookstore when this book first started to be hugely popular. I have had friends who loved it practically swoon when they heard I hadn't read it. I've heard other people dismiss it out of hand. So, eventually, in absolutely no hurry, I had to check it out myself.

And the verdict? Meh. It's okay. Parts of it are interesting, but other parts (particularly the ones that are supposed to be suspenseful) are far too repetitive, and the narrative dwells on sexual violence in much more detail than I have any interesting in reading.

It is mostly a light romance, and I did enjoy that Gabaldon avoided the route of having Claire fleeing from an unhappy marriage. But you know what I enjoyed most about the book? The moments when not much of dramatic significance was happening. Or at least those moments when peril-to-life-and-limb was not the focus of attention.

The moments of jockeying for power, of the running of a castle or an estate, the quieter moments - those were the ones I enjoyed. I thought the characters were well drawn and intelligent at those moments, and I wished the book were a) shorter or b) had more of those.

Because every time the author worried that there wasn't enough tension, someone got captured by the goddamned English. I can't even count the number of times this happened. Find some other way of creating tension, or have it happen once or twice, and cut your narrative in half. Because around the time we got to the seventh or eighth capture, I was so fed up. Claire or Jamie were captured by the English and threatened with rape or actually experienced torture and rape. Over and over and over and over. And then, at the end, after the most horrific events, it gets recounted. Once. Then twice. Then thrice. And I think even a fourth time, in increasingly horrific detail, and this starts to feel like torture porn.

While I'm glad the author wanted real consequences, as opposed to the lightweight vague threats most romance novels have, I don't need to hear about it in such loving detail. I just don't.

And what was with the Geillis subplot? It seemed like there was something interesting there, but which the author decided to keep to herself instead of sharing. Without any kind of payoff, why include it? She's obviously a complex character, but we got so little in return for so many hints.

So, yeah. The political intrigue stuff was interesting, the quiet moments of life were good, the capture by the English was overused, and the details of sexual violence far, far too complete.

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