Last summer, I noticed many of my online friends were discussing a series of novels and becoming quite frenzied over it. Knowing their collective great taste in books, I followed up and asked them about it during our vacation together in September. Seeing their enthusiasm was high and knowing a television adaptation of the story was in the works, I sat down in October to immerse myself in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Before I could finish the first book, I knew I’d found something exceptional and issued a reading challenge to Morgan. There was no way I was going to leave him out of this incredible reading experience. I loved what I was reading so much, that I read the book a second time, out loud to Morgan.
Jennifer: I knew right from the start Outlander was your kind of book. When trying to describe it to you, I hesitated to call it paranormal, or fantasy, although both elements are present. So I went with my instincts and told you it was a great historical fiction utilizing time-travel. How do you feel this book compares to others you’ve read in this genre?
Morgan: I bet it won’t surprise you to learn that this book is totally unique in its approach to time-travel. Most of the books I’ve read, and indeed my own narrative when I tackle the subject as an author, focus on the technical aspects of the phenomenon. Outlander was told in first person, so we got to FEEL the time-travel from the inside out, and from the point of view of someone who had no idea what was happening to her at the time.
Jennifer: I vividly remember when we reached that point in the story when Claire travels through time. It was the moment I saw your excitement for the book ignite.
There was a deep humming noise coming from somewhere near at hand. I thought there might be a beehive lodged in some crevice of the rock, and placed a hand on the stone in order to lean into the cleft.
The stone screamed.
I backed away as fast as I could, moving so quickly that I tripped on the short turf and sat down hard. I stared at the stone, sweating.
I had never heard such a sound from anything living. There is no way to describe it, except to say that it was the sort of scream you might expect from a stone. It was horrible.
The other stones began to shout.
Morgan: Of course, this book is only about time-travel in the most basic of descriptions. The core of the story is a witty and staggeringly poetic romance amidst cultural chaos. I have agreed to continue reading the series with you, and it’s been one of the highlights of my day to lie on the bed and listen to your cute Scottish pronunciations.
Here’s my question for you. I know that women love a well-written leading man, and I’ll admit that Jamie is as dreamy as a walk through Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Is he an especially tortured, but loveable protagonist?
Jennifer: From the moment Claire meets Jamie, we can see he’s suffered physically. He’s been through some terrible experiences which come to light as Claire gets to know him better. But one of the things I personally found attractive about his character is how he didn’t close in on himself, or become angry with the world for the things he’s been through. Jamie is as strong in spirit and in mind as he is in body. He’s also intelligent, educated and possesses the best sense of humor I’ve ever experienced in a fictional male character, bar none. Without giving anything away about the overall story, I would say that a reader’s inclination would be to resist falling in love with Jamie, but I defy anyone to succeed in that. I think it’s next to impossible.
“Before I tell ye, Claire, there’s the one thing I’d ask of you,” he said slowly.
I must have flinched uncomfortably, for he leaned forward earnestly, hands on his knees.
“I know there are things ye’d not wish to tell me, Claire. Perhaps things that ye can’t tell me.”
You don’t know just how right you are, I thought.
“I’ll not press you, ever, or insist on knowin’ things that are your own concern,” he said seriously. He looked down at his hands, now pressed together, palm to palm.
“There are things that I canna tell you, at least not yet. And I’ll ask nothing of ye that ye canna give me. But what I would ask of ye – when you do tell me something, let it be the truth. And I’ll promise ye the same. We have nothing now between us, save – respect, perhaps. And I think that respect has maybe room for secrets, but not for lies. Do ye agree?”
Since we’ve disclosed that Jamie is a character who experiences some awful things, I’d like to hear your thoughts about the author’s fearlessness. Once you read Outlander, it becomes clear that she’s willing to put her beloved characters through more than their fair share of suffering. Without giving away spoilers, how do you feel about this?
Morgan: I’ll admit I was shocked at times. As you know, I read post-apocalyptic men’s adventure books in between my more “learned” novels and seldom have I witnessed the depths of human suffering like I endured in Outlander. It was not graphic, of course, but it was dramatic and deepened my concern for the characters.
We have been talking a lot about the romance and the serious nature of some scenes, but I was delighted to find that I was laughing my way through nearly every exchange between Jamie and Claire. This book is as funny as a Christopher Moore novel while maintaining the passion of something by Sylvain Reynard. I don’t know of any other author who can have her cake and eat it too. She is deeply detailed without an ounce of superfluous information. She has more swordplay than The Princess Bride and more tits than a Vegas stage show. I don’t get jealous reading other authors very often, but I am as green as Kermit the Frog half the time I’m reading this masterpiece.
How do you keep from laughing when you are reading such funny scenes? What do you think of the other Scottish men?
Jennifer: It really helped that I’d already read the book when I started reading it out loud to you. Even so, Gabaldon has that special gift that makes a reader laugh out loud or burst into tears or fume in rage right along with the main characters. It’s not always easy to maintain my composure while reading to you, but I tend to release those feelings in the moments when you stop my narration so that you can react to something. Thankfully, you seem to interrupt my reading at all the perfect moments.
As far as the other Scottish men in the story go, I’ve found every character in Outlander to be fully-drawn and to serve a specific purpose. There are no aimless wanderers in this story and I really appreciate that the author took the same careful precision with every “minor” character we meet as she does with her main cast of characters. As a result, I hate to gloss over any interaction in the story because they all seem to have meaning for the bigger picture.
I mostly discuss this book with female friends, and they’ve all been curious about your impression of Claire as a leading lady. I think it’s safe to say that my friends and I find her to be one of the strongest women we’ve read about in any novel. Would you agree with our assessment? And as a male reader, what are your favorite things about Claire?
Morgan: Well, she undresses a lot, that’s a plus. But seriously, she is a great personality – a sassy 1940’s war nurse who gets sucked back in time two hundred years and immediately starts pulling leeches off of sick people. She is the kind of person who is determined to make a difference wherever she goes and I admire that about her. She is as stubborn as the tides, but that only makes her a perfect match for someone like Jamie. Claire can sure get herself into trouble also, which happens to be another reason she’s a perfect match for Jamie, who excels at problem-solving.
We were almost nose to nose by this time, shouting into each other’s face. Jamie was flushed with fury, and I felt the blood rising in my own face.
“It’s your own fault, for ignoring me and suspecting me all the time! I told you the truth about who I am! And I told you there was no danger in my going with you, but would you listen to me? No! I’m only a woman, why should you pay an attention to what I say? Women are only fit to do as they’re told, and follow orders, and sit meekly around with their holds folded, waiting for the men to come back and tell them what to do!”
He shook me again, unable to control himself.
“And if ye’d done that, we wouldna be on the run, with a hundred Redcoats on our tail! God, woman, I dinna know whether to strangle ye or throw ye on the ground and hammer ye senseless, but by Jesus, I want to do something to you.”
At this, I made a determined effort to kick him in the balls. He dodged, and jammed his own knee between my legs, effectively preventing any further attempts.
“Try that again and I’ll slap you ‘til your ears ring,” he growled.
“You’re a brute and a fool,” I panted, struggling to escape his grip on my shoulders.
Jennifer: I’m pleased to say that Morgan and I have already started reading the second book in this series, Dragonfly in Amber, and we’ll be continuing our discussion of the Outlander books in future posts.
If you’ve enjoyed our talk today and would like to look up Diana Gabaldon and her works, here is the goodreads link for you to check out.
Please also feel free to friend us on goodreads to see what else we’re reading and to share your recommendations with us.