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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Review: Outlander

By guest reviewer Lianne Lopes

by Diana Gabaldon

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon — when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach — an "outlander" — in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord ... 1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life ... and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire ... and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
Never has a book so gripped me as this one did. I’ve questioned what it is about this book that, despite its 627 pages, made me begin to read it all over again.

The story is told in first person, from Claire’s point of view. Even if you’re not fond of first person, don’t shrug this one off. At some point in the narrative, it ceased to be Claire telling the story, and the events were happening to me. I was there, shivering in the misty cold of the Highlands, warmed by the tartan plaid of a friendly Highlander. I breathed in the tangy scent of pine or held my nose at the stench of 1700s filth and unwashed bodies. My back and legs ached from riding a horse for long hours, and I knew the despair of being in a foreign time, of feeling I did not belong. Then I fell head over heals in love.

I could not stop reading. Neglected my family. Went to sleep thinking of the characters. Woke up with them in my head. It was almost an obsession, and I could not wait to get back into Claire’s world.

Though strong and daring, Claire is not one of those cliched heroines whose rebellious temper tantrums make you want to throttle her. She is well balanced and likeable. And the hero, though maybe a little idealized, is very much a man with plenty of strengths, but faults and weaknesses as well, which only make him that much more endearing to the reader.

Though very much a love story, this is not your typical romance. It is not meant for a young readership, but for mature, preferably married women. There is violence, war, torture and even rape. The love scenes are graphic, yet without all the usual gory descriptions of body parts. They show the depth of love and passion that Claire and her Highland husband share, and for that reason are not exactly gratuitous. If you are a person of faith, you might find some of Claire’s beliefs about God–or lack of them–offensive. There is some bad language as well, but it is, refreshingly, not overused.

Read Outlander at your own risk. But be prepared for late nights, a messy house, and family members complaining that you aren’t paying them any attention.