Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Spotlight: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon--when she innocently touches a boulder 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 border clans in the year of our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire's destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life ...and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

About seven years ago a friend of mine bumped into me in the supermarket and we got to talking about books and so forth and after mentioning that I'd just bought The Time Traveler's Wife, she grabbed me by the arm and told me - told me - that I had to read this wonderful time travel book called Outlander.  I'd never heard of it.  She began to go on and on, extolling the virtues of somebody named Jamie Fraser.  Nodding, I began to perk up at the idea and took note of the recommendation.  When I later got home, I impulsively bought the first four books in the series off of Amazon.  For some reason I neglected to get the fifth, not realizing there were five in the series at that point.   Needless to say - I nearly cried when I didn't have it later on!

Believe it or not, once the books arrived, there they sat - for nearly a year in my TBR pile.  A year! Can you imagine?  What was I thinking?  I don't know what made me finally pick Outlander up, but I began to read it, and I was entranced.  I'd never read anything like it before.   From that moment was the demarcation point in my literary life.  Life before Outlander - life after Outlander.  The rest is history.  I swept through the books (okay, The Fiery Cross took me longer than the others and I had to put it down from time to time).  I was hooked!  Suddenly it was Jamie, Jamie, Jamie instead of Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy!  As soon as I finished the The Fiery Cross, what did I do?  Naturally, I turned right around and began reading the entire Outlander series again from the beginning - with barely a pause for breath! I didn't want it to stop!  I loved it even more the second time around, suddenly it was like reading it in technicolor!  Now that I knew what would happen I could pay more attention to all the rich details and characterizations, I no longer wanted to speed through it to see what happened next!

Well, after I read the series through again - and again, I discovered the amazing unabridged audio books, narrated by the incomparable Davina Porter.  Davina Porter's voice is unbelievably perfect for this series.  She is the voice of Claire - she is Claire.  When she's Jamie - sigh - she really is Jamie Fraser!  I was able to borrow the audio books from my local library (on inter library loan) and for the next two years (I kid you not) I listened to the whole series in my car nonstop while driving around doing my various daily errands and what-have-you during the course of the day.  Only in my car.  It got to the point where my husband and son would go crazy if they heard Davina Porter's voice - they'd scream and yell, begging me to turn it off! When I finished the series, I bought the CD's and just started from the beginning again in one giant Outlander loop!  I kept this up until A Breath of Snow and Ashes came out.  After reading it, I added that CD to my giant loop as well until An Echo in the Bone came out.  I estimate I listened to those audio books in my car for about five years!  I just never got sick of the story, it fed my addiction.  Even my husband read Outlander.  That's saying something for he's not much of a book reader, unless it's Stephen King or Robert Ludlum.  I think he was mainly curious to find out who this Jamie guy was.  I was breathless with anticipation to hear what part he was on.  What did he think of it?  What did he think of the beating scene at Leoch?  What did he think of what Black Jack Randall did to Jamie at Wentworth Prison?  What did he think of all the sex???  Well, my husband is not the chatty type, it was like pulling teeth, but I did get him to talk about it eventually.  Did he go on to read the second book, Dragonfly in Amber?  No, but maybe he will before we go to Scotland this summer?  Did I happen to mention we're going to the Scottish Highlands this summer?  The title of my blog doesn't have the word Outlandish in it for nothing!  And guess who that handsome red haired Scot in my banner is?  (Ah, the wonders of Photoshop!)

So, now you know about Outlander and me.   I dare any of you who haven't read it yet, not to be affected by it when you read it for the first time - and trust me, you'll read it more than once.  It's that kind of book.  Maybe you won't be as affected by it as much as I was, but trust me, this series is that good.  It's life changing.  Not only is the story fantastic, but the writing is superb.  They're huge books, the kind you can get lost in - the Calgon take me away kind of books that leave you misty eyed, utterly exhausted but exhilarated as well.  You laugh, you cry, you're all over the place in these books.  Jamie and Claire's story is one of an everlasting love.  The time travel element gives them a special quality as well as the lush richness of Gabaldon's writing.  Frankly, I find it indescribable.  Everyone I've recommended them to has loved them as well -  the books are evocative, magical - and addictive!  

It was twenty years ago that Outlander was first published, below is an excerpt to give you a taste of what I'm talking about, it's one of my favorite moments:

Jamie made a fire in a sheltered spot, and sat down next to it. The rain had eased to a faint drizzle that misted the air and spangled my eyelashes with rainbows when I looked at the flames.

He sat staring into the fire for a long time. Finally he looked up at me, hands clasped around his knees.

"I said before that I'd not ask ye things ye had no wish to tell me. And I'd not ask ye now; but I must know, for your safety as well as mine." He paused, hesitating.

"Claire, if you've never been honest wi' me, be so now, for I must know the truth. Claire, are ye a witch?"

I gaped at him. "A witch? You—you can really ask that?" I thought he must be joking. He wasn't.

He took me by the shoulders and gripped me hard, staring into my eyes as though willing me to answer him.

"I must ask it, Claire! And you must tell me!"

"And if I were?" I asked through dry lips. "If you had thought I were a witch? Would you still have fought for me?"

"I would have gone to the stake with you!" he said violently. "And to hell beyond, if I must. But may the Lord Jesus have mercy on my soul and on yours, tell me the truth!"

The strain of it all caught up with me. I tore myself out of his grasp and ran across the clearing. Not far, only to the edge of the trees; I could not bear the exposure of the open space. I clutched a tree; put my arms around it and dug my fingers hard into the bark, pressed my face to it and shrieked with hysterical laughter.

Jamie's face, white and shocked, loomed up on the other side of the tree. With the dim realization that what I was doing must sound unnervingly like cackling, I made a terrific effort and stopped. Panting, I stared at him for a moment.

"Yes," I said, backing away, still heaving with gasps of unhinged laughter. "Yes, I am a witch! To you, I must be. I've never had smallpox, but I can walk through a room full of dying men and never catch it. I can nurse the sick and breathe their air and touch their bodies, and the sickness can't touch me. I can't catch cholera, either, or lockjaw, or the morbid sore throat. And you must think it's an enchantment, because you've never heard of vaccine, and there's no other way you can explain it."

"The things I know—" I stopped backing away and stood still, breathing heavily, trying to control myself. "I know about Jonathan Randall because I was told about him. I know when he was born and when he'll die, I know about what he's done and what he'll do, I know about Sandringham because ... because Frank told me. He knew about Randall because he ... he ... oh, God!" I felt as though I might be sick, and closed my eyes to shut out the spinning stars overhead.

"And Colum ... he thinks I'm a witch, because I know Hamish isn't his own son. I know ... he can't sire children. But he thought I knew who Hamish's father is ... I thought maybe it was you, but then I knew it couldn't be, and..." I was talking faster and faster, trying to keep the vertigo at bay with the sound of my own voice.

"Everything I've ever told you about myself was true," I said, nodding madly as though to reassure myself. "Everything. I haven't any people, I haven't any history, because I haven't happened yet.

"Do you know when I was born?" I asked, looking up. I knew my hair was wild and my eyes staring, and I didn't care. "On the twentieth of October, in the Year of Our Lord nineteen hundred and eighteen. Do you hear me?" I demanded, for he was blinking at me unmoving, as though paying no attention to a word I said. "I said nineteen eighteen! Nearly two hundred years from now! Do you hear?"

I was shouting now, and he nodded slowly.

"I hear," he said softly.

"Yes, you hear!" I blazed. "And you think I'm raving mad. Don't you? Admit it! That's what you think. You have to think so, there isn't any other way you can explain me to yourself. You can't believe me, you can't dare to. Oh, Jamie..." I felt my face start to crumple. All this time spent hiding the truth, realizing that I could never tell anyone, and now I realized that I could tell Jamie, my beloved husband, the man I trusted beyond all others, and he wouldn't—he couldn't believe me either.

It was the rocks—the fairy hill. The standing stones. Merlin's stones. That's where I came through." I was gasping, half-sobbing, becoming less coherent by the second. "Once upon a time, but it's really two hundred years. It's always two hundred years, in the stories. ... But in the stories, the people always get back. I couldn't get back." I turned away, staggering, grasping for support. I sank down on a rock, shoulders slumped, and put my head in my hands. There was a long silence in the wood. It went on long enough for the small night birds to recover their courage and start their noises once again, calling to each other with a thin, high zeek! as they hawked for the last insects of the summer.

I looked up at last, thinking that perhaps he had simply risen and left me, overcome by my revelations. He was still there, though, still sitting, hands braced on his knees, head bowed as though in thought.

The hairs on his arms shone stiff as copper wires in the firelight, though, and I realized that they stood erect, like the bristles on a dog. He was afraid of me.

"Jamie," I said, feeling my heart break with absolute loneliness. "Oh, Jamie."

I sat down and curled myself into a ball, trying to roll myself around the core of my pain. Nothing mattered any longer, and I sobbed my heart out.

His hands on my shoulders raised me, enough to see his face. Through the haze of tears, I saw the look he wore in battle, of struggle that had passed the point of strain and become calm certainty.

"I believe you," he said firmly. "I dinna understand it a bit—not yet—but I believe you. Claire, I believe you! Listen to me! There's the truth between us, you and I, and whatever ye tell me, I shall believe it." He gave me a gentle shake.

"It doesna matter what it is. You've told me. That's enough for now. Be still, mo duinne. Lay your head and rest. You'll tell me the rest of it later. And I'll believe you."

I was still sobbing, unable to grasp what he was telling me. I struggled, trying to pull away, but he gathered me up and held me tightly against himself, pushing my head into the folds of his plaid, and repeating over and over again, "I believe you."

At last, from sheer exhaustion, I grew calm enough to look up and say, "But you can't believe me."

He smiled down at me. His mouth trembled slightly, but he smiled.

"Ye'll no tell me what I canna do, Sassenach." He paused a moment. ... A long time later, he spoke.

"All right. Tell me now."

I told him. Told him everything, haltingly but coherently. I felt numb from exhaustion, but content, like a rabbit that has outrun a fox, and found temporary shelter under a log. It isn't sanctuary, but at least it is respite. And I told him about Frank.

"Frank," he said softly. "Then he isna dead, after all."

"He isn't born." I felt another small wave of hysteria break against my ribs, but managed to keep myself under control. "Neither am I."

He stroked and patted me back into silence, making his small murmuring Gaelic sounds.

"When I took ye from Randall at Fort William," he said suddenly, "you were trying to get back. Back to the stones. And ... Frank. That's why ye left the grove."


"And I beat you for it." His voice was soft with regret.

"You couldn't know. I couldn't tell you." I was beginning to feel very drowsy indeed.

"No, I dinna suppose ye could." He pulled the plaid closer around me, tucking it gently around my shoulders. "Do ye sleep now, mo duinne. No one shall harm ye; I'm here."

I burrowed into the warm curve of his shoulder, letting my tired mind fall through the layers of oblivion. I forced myself to the surface long enough to ask, "Do you really believe me, Jamie?"

He sighed, and smiled ruefully down at me.

"Aye, I believe ye, Sassenach. But it would ha' been a good deal easier if you'd only been a witch."

Excerpted from Outlander by Diana Gabaldon Copyright © 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Now a little bit about Diana, who wrote these amazing books. I've met her in person twice now and she is amazingly down to earth and unaffected by her success. She seems very grounded and a gracious and lovely lady!

Diana Gabaldon is the author of the award-winning, #1 NYT-bestselling OUTLANDER novels, described by Salon magazine as “the smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting “Scrooge McDuck” comics.”

The adventure began in 1991 with the classic OUTLANDER (“historical fiction with a Moebius twist”), has continued through six more New York Times-bestselling novels–DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, VOYAGER, DRUMS OF AUTUMN, THE FIERY CROSS, A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, and AN ECHO IN THE BONE, with nineteen million copies in print worldwide.

The series is published in 26 countries and 23 languages, and includes a nonfiction (well, relatively) companion volume, THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, which provides details on the settings, background, characters, research, and writing of the novels. Gabaldon (it’s pronounced “GAA-bull-dohn”—rhymes with “stone”) has also written several books in a sub-series featuring Lord John Grey (a major minor character from the main series): LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER, LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, and LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS. Another Lord John book, LORD JOHN AND THE SCOTTISH PRISONER, will probably be published in 2011).

Returning to her comic-book roots, she has also written a graphic novel titled THE EXILE (set within the OUTLANDER universe and featuring the main characters from OUTLANDER), but told from the viewpoint of Jamie Fraser and his godfather, Murtagh. The graphic novel is illustrated by Hoang Nguyen, published by Del-Rey.

Gabaldon is presently working on the third Lord John novel (LORD JOHN AND THE SCOTTISH PRISONER), and the eighth book in the OUTLANDER series. In addition, she is working on a contemporary mystery series, set in Phoenix, and has written Highly Scholarly Introductions (with masses of footnotes) to recent Modern Library editions of Sir Walter Scott’s IVANHOE and Thomas Paine’s COMMON SENSE.

Dr. Gabaldon holds three degrees in science: Zoology, Marine Biology, and Quantitative Behavioral Ecology, (plus an honorary degree as Doctor of Humane Letters, which entitles her to be “Diana Gabaldon, Ph.D., D.H.L.” She supposes this is better than “Diana Gabaldon, Phd.X,”) and spent a dozen years as a university professor with an expertise in scientific computation before beginning to write fiction. She has written scientific articles and textbooks, worked as a contributing editor on the MacMillan ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COMPUTERS, founded the scientific-computation journal SCIENCE SOFTWARE QUARTERLY, and has written numerous comic-book scripts for Walt Disney. None of this has anything whatever to do with her novels, but there it is.

She and her husband, Douglas Watkins, have three adult children and live mostly in Scottsdale, Arizona.

You can visit Diana online at

Published by Random House, here is the link that will tell you where the books are available for sale. No word yet on when exactly the next book of the series will be coming out, but Diana is working on it and said it might be as early as 2012!

Thanks to Cheryl Malandrinos for organizing and inviting me to participate in the Pump Up Your Book Virtual Blog Tour for Outlander, this was fun!


Deniz Bevan said...

I'm with you on this one! A friend gave me Outlander right around the time the paperback of ABOSAA came out, and I almost didn't read it cos I thought it would be romantic fluff. HA! Boy am I glad I was wrong - and how wrong! I read 'em, reread 'em, and I love to keep rereading them. Now if only I could get *my* husband to read them too...

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Deniz-yes, it was quite a coup when I got my husband to read it. He liked it, but was a bit put off by the romance of it, he'd never read a romance before! I'm hoping I can get him to continue with the series - at least before we go to Inverness this summer!

Karen Henry said...


There's no question, it IS an addiction! LOL. I totally agree with you that the unabridged audiobooks read by Davina Porter are wonderful. I've been listening to them more or less continuously for almost four years now (listening to VOYAGER at the moment in the car on the way to and from work) and I would recommend them to anybody who loves the series.


Karen Henry said...

P.S. I know Julie's well aware of this already, but for everybody else: If you are a fan of the OUTLANDER series, please visit my blog, Outlandish Observations, for the latest news and information about Diana Gabaldon's books. I try to keep it as up to date as possible.

And if you haven't yet read the OUTLANDER series, I echo Julie's enthusiastic recommendation! :-)


Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Karen, yes indeed - you and I can probably both attest it changed our lives! LOL! And I wholeheartedly recommend Karen's site, it's great and everything you want to know about Outlander - she's up on all the latest in regard to Diana as well - a Compuserve insider too!

Deniz Bevan said...

Hear Hear! Karen's got a great site!

Joanne said...

Hi, Julie! I could write an entire book (and I know you could,too) on how Outlander (and Diana's entire series) has enriched my life! They are my comfort books that I can escape into and I am always amazed at how much I take away with each new reading. I also listen to the cd's as often as I can (the only set I don't have is FC) and you are so right - Davina IS Claire! I remember telling you when we first started chatting online at LibraryThing that I divide the world of books into two categories: there's the Outlander series, and then there's everything else! I've been spoiled by Diana as she is my standard now whenever I read a book -- and I'm dying to one day find another series like Outlander, but I haven't found it yet (don't think it exists). Our love of Outlander also resulted in our traveling from separate cities (NY and NO) to meet up in Arizona to meet the one and only Diana! That was a great experience.

So, here's to many more years of enjoying the magic of Outlander, and I am both anticipating and dreading when Diana completes the journey of Jamie and Claire and fulfills her promise that "All Will Be Revealed."

Cheryl said...

Well, what can I say after such a wonderful post? Thanks for being part of Diana's tour. Many of the bloggers on her tour were already familiar with Outlander when I contacted them about it. I'm still wondering where the heck I've been for the past 20 years. How did I miss hearing about this book until recently?

It's my goal to read at least the first book in the series before the end of the year. I'll have to come back then and share my thoughts.

Thanks again for being part of Diana's tour.


Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Joanne! Amen! Yes, comfort is the word. Returning to the books is like going home again. I'm going to listen to Echo soon on Audio (got it recently from Audible) so I will be immersed in it again!

Cheryl - you have got to read Outlander sooner than later, I'm eager to know what you think. I'm afraid all the glowing praise you've read about it during this past month has probably raised it to the nth degree, I hope it meets the high expectations - but something tells me it will! Please come back and post, no matter how long it's been! Thanks again for inviting me to partake in this book tour - it was a pleasure!

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

I read Outlander when it first came out and it will forever reign supreme as my ultimate romance novel, as Jamie stands head and shoulders above every single romance hero I've ever known (in books). Great post.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Wow, you read it when it first came out?! It must have been torture waiting for each of the successive books to be written! I thank God I didn't have to wait so long! When I think back to what I was reading 20 years ago I was in the midst of Colleen McCullough's Man in Rome Series which I highly recommend, btw.

Danielle said...

I had a somewhat similar introduction to 'Outlander'. Except my 'friend recommendation' was from Amazon. After I read (and loved) 'The Time Traveler's Wife' I browsed through the 'Amazon recommends' page and found 'Outlander'. It was an absolute impulse when I bought the first book. It arrived and I was a little intimidated by the length and for an entire *YEAR* I was never in the mood to get stuck into it.

I cannot remember what prompted me to sit down and actually start reading a year later... and I almost put it down a couple of times when it was all about Claire and Frank. THANK GOD I stuck with it. I nearly combusted waiting for the other books in the series to arrive from Amazon.

Now I am hanging out for the film adaptation (well, I'm excited/hesitant).

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Danielle, yes our situations are similar! Has there been any recent news on the film front? Last I heard it was being written but that was a while ago, I haven't heard anything else lately.

Karen Henry said...

Julie and Deniz - Thanks for the kind words! I really appreciate it.

Cheryl - Thanks for your efforts in hosting this virtual book tour. Now you can see just how vast the OUTLANDER fan community is. :-) I hope you do take the time to read the OUTLANDER series this year. There is a 2011 OUTLANDER Reading Challenge here if you're interested.


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