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Outlander

by Diana Gabaldon

Rating: * * * * & 1/2

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

In Brief: Well, it’s unlikely, at this point, that anyone needs a plot summary of Outlander, which was published 20 years ago now. (I find that hard to believe.) And it’s a book I still have a hard time describing to folks in a way that doesn’t paint it as something other than what it is. “Oh,” they say, “time travel? Well, I’ll get to it someday. Maybe.”  Besides, I don’t want to put any spoilers ahead of the jump. So click through, but only if you’ve already read at least the first and second books in the series.

I Thought: Outlander is one of my favorite books ever. I own a multitude of copies; trade paperback, hardcover, Kindle, and now I’m thinking of buying the special 20th anniversary edition. So I’m a little bit surprised that I ended up giving it four and a half stars this time around rather than five. It’s still keeping its spot (or all three of its spots) on the keeper shelf, though.

I think part of my impression, this time, was based on having read these books, and in particular Outlander, so many times that I know well what’s going to happen before it happens. And yet I still felt the tension when Claire was captured; when Jamie was in the hands of Black Jack Randall; when he and Claire struggled with the resulting demons to come together again. Even knowing the outcome far beyond this book doesn’t much lessen the emotional charge while reading. So why did it feel slightly less amazing?

It seemed like the story moved so quickly this time, because I was anticipating what came next. I wanted it to be twice as long, even knowing how many pages are ahead in the other books. Then again, I almost always prefer 1,000-page-plus tomes if they’re available. I know some people complain about all the details and it’s so bogged down but really, I adore that.

I’m also at a different place in my life. The first time I read this, ten years ago, I fell in love with Jamie and I remember thinking that their relationship had ever so much depth even from the beginning. Now, I can see that Claire and Jamie are just starting out, here, and I long for the later books when their love really matures through all the events of their lives. I think, too, that I might be creating a bit of an emotional buffer, knowing that they’re going to be separated for a long time. I’m a third of the way through Dragonfly in Amber now, and I still don’t want it to happen.

Life being what it is, my own perspective makes me wish for more detail in some areas, in particular with the hints of Claire’s barrenness — which is resolved rather suddenly at the end. True, what we do see is more than is normally covered in most tales, but I think I’ve assimilated the characters so much that I half wanted them to be what I need them to be now. Does that make any sense? I hope it does.

Something else I noticed this time through — and this is said without rereading any author interviews, so that I can just form my own thoughts before I do — was how very Catholic much of the book was. Last time I read it, I had never myself gone to Adoration. Now I have, and the scenes where Claire spends time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (as a mostly-unbeliever) ring very true to my own experience.

At any rate, I still find Claire and Jamie’s love utterly believable. It’s clear that she hasn’t actually spent all that much time with Frank and, though she knows him, he isn’t her other half in the same way Jamie is. Even so, it’s not like everything is great all the time; clashes between 18th century Scottish culture and Claire’s modern thinking create quite a few realistic obstacles. They must learn to trust each other, and they do. I still buy Claire’s choice to stay, and also that it was a heart-wrenching decision.

So while, on reread, this book has lost only the tiniest hint of its original shine for me, if this were my first time through I would still pick up the next in the series. Since it isn’t… I think I’m looking forward to volumes three and on more than I ever have before. Whereas previously I sort of wanted Claire and Jamie to stay forever in the initial throes of passion turned to love, I’m now greatly anticipating finding out anew how they proceed.

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