This is Volume III in the continuing saga of How My GF Convinced Me to Read the Outlander Series without Trying Very Hard. The first two volumes are here and here.
I will freely admit that the video adaptation on Starz played a big part in getting me to dive into the books three whole years after Kayleen first raved about them to me.
For the record, Voyager, the third novel in Diana Gabaldon's series, was first published in 1994, a little before the Star Trek franchise spawned its series that was also entitled Voyager. In the year following its publication, the book won an honor from Entertainment Weekly for Best Opening Line in a novel. Even if the opening doesn't make you chuckle, know that there are chuckles aplenty, and even a few LOLs, in this sweeping tale.
For those still unfamiliar, the whole mess begins with demobbed Royal Army nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall, on holiday in Scotland with her husband Frank just after World War II, slipping through a standing stone and finding herself in 1743. She is rescued from Frank's distant ancestor, Captain Jonathan Randall, by members of the Mackenzie clan. Months later, for safety's sake amid rumblings of a Scots insurrection, she reluctantly marries gallant occasional outlaw James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser. Various kinds of weirdness and lavish costumes ensue.
If you've watched the first two episodes of Season 3, you've seen two very depressing episodes featuring a miserable marriage in 1940s Boston and the shattered life of a Culloden survivor. Claire and Jamie have just begun the two decades of pining for each other. The show has delivered no hint of the combination of scholarly wit and Pirates of the Caribbean–esque swashbuckling slapstick that is to come.
Part of the humor, unfortunately, involves some very uncomfortable racial and ethnic stereotyping. For example, the first scenes in which Chinese émigré and notorious foot fetishist Mr. Willoughby appears are particularly squirm-inducing, especially when he busts out some seriously broken English. One wonders whether the Starz series will try to make Willoughby more politically correct and sacrifice what Gabaldon (known to devotees as "Herself") might insist is historical authenticity. (She does work as a consultant for the program.) The attitudes and behaviors of most of the European characters toward Asians and Africans is certainly authentic enough in their brutality, indeed furnishing a commentary on intercultural relations in our own age.
Another quibble I have is that, like many comic novels and films, Voyager relies heavily on coincidences to resolve its conflicts. Since this is a thousand-pager, with a multitude of characters and settings, its coincidences are that much grander. No, I absolutely will not give any examples/spoilers here, mostly because they would flounder without context.
There's also this major Gabaldonian motif of characters thought to be dead who turn out not to be, or who most likely should have died years ago but are still plugging away at their old jobs. She certainly did not invent that "whoa, (s)he's-alive!" conceit, but she uses it often enough to make it a running inside joke among her readers.
Complaints aside, this was a fun read, as much for the small-scale moments as for the tale of adventure. We meet a member of the Rothschild banking family, before the family even adopted that name. We meet a German naturalist named Lawrence Stern, not to be confused with 18th-century novelist Laurence Sterne, who is acquainted with a renegade priest with a sweet tooth for sangría. We see a well-crafted spin on Melville's famous opening sentence, "Call me Ishmael."
We are also treated to a nighttime slave revolt in the sugar plantations of Jamaica, with festivities involving an unnamed drug that enables your ancestors to speak through you from the spirit world--and a catatonic Scotswoman who shows up at the party with her wits more or less intact. This scene alone, for me, was worth the effort of hacking through the first 900 pages.
These and other elements, including some well-justified paranoia, add up to Gabaldon at her most Pynchonian (that I've encountered so far), I daresay. And "Pynchonian" is one of the highest compliments I can bestow upon any novelist. She doesn't riff on or parody Pynchon's style of dialog or characterization; wittingly or not, she just takes some of his stock ingredients and combines them in a literary recipe of her own. Well done.
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