I'm just over 300 pages into the first novel of the series, which weighs in at about 800 pages in paperback.
I'm also concurrently watching on DVD the Starz video adaptations of Diana Gabaldon's best-sellers. Each season covers one of the books; so far, Starz has broadcast its treatments of Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber. The video version of Voyager is due this fall.
Three years ago, when Kayleen and I were in the early stages of figuring each other out, she treated me to a lengthy discussion of her fascination/obsession with Gabaldon's works. I had heard of the books, seen them on bookstore shelves, but knew nothing about them beyond the packaging.
Kayleen has read all eight novels (a ninth is in the works as we speak) and listened to them in audiobook format. She has watched all 29 extant episodes multiple times on video and seems never to tire of them. She has several of the companion books, including a book of recipes inspired by the series (not 170 Ways to Prepare Haggis, thank ye). She frequents at least one Outlander fan page on Facebook (don't know which), where fans share tips on coping with "Droughtlander," the long wait for the publication of the ninth book and the beginning of the third season on Starz.
Sex! Time Travel! Dialects! More Sex!
Gabaldon's expansive novels comfortably bridge several genres: historical fiction, science fiction, and romance just for starters. But they are best approached as literary fiction. In the 1990s, it was easier to get a genre-bending novel like that published; today, publishers want only what they can shoe-horn into a specific section of a bookstore. Some agents, and even some editors at publishing houses, actually understand what is meant by "literary fiction," but lit-fic seems to be losing market share. It's certainly a difficult corner of the literary universe for an author to break into.
Because Gabaldon has developed a reputation as a romance writer (and has worn the label willingly), straight men with an aversion to such fiction may have to overcome an attitudinal barrier. Here are my suggestions for such men:
- Get over yourself.
- Get a taste of the video series. Netflix has it. Yes, there's an element of costume porn to it, similar to Showtime's The Tudors from a few years ago. But there is also martial and political intrigue aplenty.
The 300 pages I have read so far are not bad, but nothing yet has made my heart go giddy-up. Mostly it has made me nitpick to a degree that annoys even me. Beyond the romance angle, Gabaldon has acquired a reputation for painstaking accuracy in her settings, personal descriptions, and 18th-century Scots-English dialog. In the first novel, however, I keep finding details that don't ring true, especially in the conversations.
While I don't expect the characters' diction, syntax, and sentence structure to match that in 18th-century literature that I have consumed (the dialog of which was quite artificial—think Shakespeare but in prose), too much of what the 18th-century characters say feels more like 20th-century colloquial speech. This makes it easy for the accidental time-tourist Claire Beauchamp Randall to pass as an 18th-century woman, which is important for the success of the plot. Kayleen assures me that the accuracy of the period details improves as the series progresses.
Excerpts from Reviews
A few friends of mine on Goodreads have given the first book middling ratings. None of them appear to have proceeded to Dragonfly. I shall reserve full judgment until I finish the first.
Below are some excerpts from reviews on Goodreads, including one by a guy (apparently, anyway) who has reviewed some other books that I have also read or reviewed. Random Anthony's review (three stars) is not quite the orgasm that others have given it, but it is quite positive and well thought out. I have not included any excerpts from negative reviews, but if you want to see some, have at it.
I usually don't care if someone does not like a book that I love. Everyone's tastes are different. That being said..... I find if someone says something negative about Outlander I have an almost visceral reaction and want to stab them with a fork. So if you're a hater you better watch yourself........and seriously? What's wrong with you?
This book is my love, you all know this. It deserves an infinite amount of stars, too bad Goodreads only allows 5!
Check out my review on YouTube here:
Ok, I have a question. Why is the quality of Outlander so controversial? It’s a flat-out good book. Is it because Outlander is aimed, it seems, primarily at women? Is it the huge, smelly pile of Fabio-covered romance novels tainting Ms. G.’s work? I swear, and I think I’ve said this before, market this book differently and you’ve got a respected hit on your hands rather than a less-respected novel that sold a zillion copies but appears to be of lesser quality than it is (thanks, fake leather cover!). Don’t be afraid of Outlander. It’s a solid adventure story with decent psychological insight and some good sex scenes. I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Take the risk. Don’t be a wuss.