So, way back in the days before there was any sort of video gaming allowed in my household, I had to turn to other forms of entertainment. (I say allowed because we didn’t have really any sort of disposable icome growing up and because the one time my mother broke down and rented an original NES machine for my brother and I it ended up in the sort of ‘console machine to the side of the head’ fight that all kids get into from time to time. Don’t ask.) Lacking both any sort of pixelated joy in the form of video games and the attention span for TV, I read a lot. Like, a lot. I read like other people breath. Books, magazine, cereal boxes, placemats – anything.
I still love to read and I will still abandon WoW from time to time in favour of reading something really fabulous. Or reading my assigned book for the monthly book club meeting that I have with my mother and sisters. I’ll read just about anything, but what I have been reading lately is the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon.
The books have had a bit of a sordid past. They’re not exactly easy to classify – and because the main character was a woman and there was quite a bit of sex in them, the first two got relegated to the “Romance” bin. Which, is not to say that it hurt the books, but it definately pushed them into a ‘niche’ market. You can only read paperback books with flaxen haired buxom women in ripped bodices, swooning in the arms of shirtless Fabio lookalikes on the cover in certain places – and still expect to be taken seriously.
Which, in an odd aside, makes me think of the Harry Potter books (which I also like quite a bit). Diana Gabaldon’s books have been republished several times, and the newest print run of the books have a plain cover with a celtic knot on the front. Very discreet and adult looking. In much the same way, book publishers have capitalized on the deomgraphic-crossing popularity of the Harry Potter books and have printed them with more subtle covers so that adults won’t be embarassed to read children’s books on the train to work.
But I digress (are you shocked?). The books are hard to describe, Diana Gabaldon, when asked what the Outlander series was about, said:
“History, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honour, betrayal, vengance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul … you know, the usual stuff of literature.”
Which is pretty much the most accurate description. She also says “Look, pick it up, open it anywhere and read three pages. If you can put it down again, I’ll pay you a dollar”, which I just love because it’s so absolutely true – it’s how I got hooked on them. She also said that she’s sold a lot of books that way – but not lost any money.
I love them because they are epic in scale, far reaching in concept and deliver a taste of everything like a good variety show. They’re not just romance books or scifi novels – they’re amazing stories, told by a very, very talented author who deftly wields literary tools from every genre.
It’s hard to give a synopsis that won’t make them sound really silly, because they are such a mishmash of styles (the author calls them ‘historical fiction’ which is about as accurate as any label will get, I suppose). What I can comment on is the talent of the author, both in crafting memorable, moving and elegant phrases (I used one in this post, because it’s the most spine-tingling, shiver-inducingly accurate description of All Hallow’s Eve ever penned), as well as presenting us with some of the most well rounded characters I have read in a long time. Each character speaks with their own voice, stays true to their character traits and changes and develops as the series progress. It sounds like such a simple thing to do, but it’s actually quite difficult (to judge from some of the tripe I’ve been forced to read through Book Club) for authors to manage. I’ve read some deliciously written books that have horrid, one-dimensional characters that never change, learn or grow, are used clumsily to make some point or other, or speak with the author’s voice and not their own.
One thing I’ve noticed with Ms. Gabaldon’s writing over time is that she has refined her talent to the point where her writing style changes very subtly (and very appropriately) with the character she is writing about. Her own author’s voice, her word usage and sentance structure is tailored to suit the main character in whatever that particualr scene is. I have no idea if she’s doing it consciously, or if it’s an artifact of her being so in tune with her characters as whole and complete persons, but it’s fabulous and I love her for it.
The most recent (8th!) book in the series was published last week (in the US and Canada.) I’ve just started it after re-reading the previous 7, and the author’s talents have never come across so clearly. I’m only a few chapters in and I’m already entranced, staying up far, far too late last night, trying to cram just a few more pages in. It’s a marvellous read, and I’m finding that I’m required to physically restrain myself to keep from gobbling the whole book down at once, rather than taking the time to savour it.
The books (which are hefty, make no mistake. The hardcovers run about 3 inches thick!) have been described by Salon Magazine as, “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting Scrooge McDuck comic books.”
To which I can only add: “and getting better with every installment.”
I love Diana Gabaldon, I love her Outlander series, and all the rest of her books. You should check them out!