This first post is symbolic for me as it’s the book that put the “emotional transportation” notion in my head several years back. What I have to write here likely isn’t news to anyone, especially given that the book is now a TV series, but I have to pay tribute to the book that started it all.
Set in the 1700’s, Outlander is equal parts romance and historical fiction, although I’d say the romance outweighs the history in terms of detail, though historical detail is not by any means lacking.
I’ve never been a huge romance fan, mainly because I don’t like thinking I’ll know the outcome of a book before I’ve read it, and in my experience most romances follow the same storyline; a forbidden attraction, sexual tension and “happily ever after.“ But I have always liked strong, outspoken female characters, and been intrigued by the men who have the courage to love them, and that is what initially attracted me to the story.
Claire would be a strong woman in modern times, but in the 1700’s she’s courageous, defiant and sharp-tongued, causing most men to hate or fear her. (I loved her instantly). Jamie is a warrior with bravery to match hers, and a boyish innocence that enables him to appreciate Claire’s strength rather than fear it. Not to mention a witty sense of humor. Newly married, Jamie is like a kid in a candy store, enjoying the novelty of having a wife, whom he can confide in and share his life with, and enjoying even more the opportunity to explore how their bodies fit together. But despite this innocence he possesses an instinctive wisdom, which makes him both an enthusiastic and passionate lover and a natural, if unlikely, romantic teacher. In fact, Jamie’s unique combination of humor and wisdom helps Claire discover what she had been missing in prior relationships, so despite being older and presumably wiser it is Claire who learns from Jamie just how powerful an emotion love really is, and how to show that love.
Though I don’t gravitate toward romance novels I do appreciate the way they remind me of falling in love, because as life gets in the way romance can be pushed aside, and while I’m not suggesting the romance in a novel applies to real life sometimes just escaping into the story can remind you how important it is not to let the pressures of work, children and finances overrun your relationships. As Jamie and Claire move through their unorthodox courtship they did make me recall the joys of falling in love; the anticipation of seeing that special person, awkward smiles when your eyes meet, and the growing realization that your mind wanders to that person even when you don’t intend it to. But where most books would inspire my reminisces for a day or two Jamie and Claire stayed in my thoughts for weeks; are still there today. And I think its because their story isn’t about just falling in love, its about staying in love despite both the external challenges life presents, and the internal challenges of maintaining honesty, respect and trust. (Yes the external challenges they face in the book would be absurd for the present century, but a challenge is still a challenge and honesty, respect and trust apply regardless of the era). By facing these challenges together the love they share is intensely physical because it’s so intensely emotional.
These characters expose themselves to their core, emotionally naked and brutally honest, which I think is what we all envision for ourselves but are often too guarded or full of pride to ever achieve. I imagine the depth of passion achieved by these characters is possible in life if two people can stand so emotionally exposed before one another, and I felt a twinge of envy over these fictional characters because they’re brave enough to share their flaws with one another, and in doing so achieve a connection so intense it sometimes feels like they are one person. Some people will find this overdone, but I appreciate that they can admit their flaws mainly because I find that hard to do. I suppose that’s why this is fiction; many of us keep our scars to ourselves and therefore never realize the extent to which we can truly connect with another person. But the idea that such connections can exist if we open ourselves to them is something I appreciated about Jamie and Claire, even if they don’t really exist.
The story of Jamie and Claire was the most prominent thread in this book, for me, and what makes me want to read the next, because their emotion is so beautifully articulated, and I’ve not seen another book that describes the essence of being in love as well as Outlander. But no less important, or fascinating, are the supporting story lines that offer a glimpse of life in the 17th century; the practice of medicine in such crude conditions and how that practice is as vital to Claire’s survival as those she treats; the origins of the clash between the Scottish and the English; the loyalty and deviousness of the Scottish clans; and most importantly the Scottish culture, which is rich in proud traditions, old tales, religion and the Gaelic language. I could have done without the time travel element, which I never really find appropriate unless I’m reading science fiction, but the fish out of water scenario of Claire ending up in a time period to different from her own does reinforce how different life, relationships, religion, medicine and politics were in the 18th century.
Like many romances this one has a predictable resolution, if you stop after this book. But I’m intrigued by what may come next because I’ve never read a romance where there is a “next.” Having been married for several years I know its not all happily ever after, but I feel invested in Jamie and Claire and want them to have that.