Why does reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander create such ardent lovers out of so many of us? We end up soaking up—and relishing the plunge—just about everything in the 800 plus pages. It’s not only Jamie and Claire that get us, it’s also dialects that seemed impenetrable at first peruse, leisurely descriptions of daily 18th century Scottish life down to the medicinal plant-picking and impossible sanitary conditions. But we love it, and we actually kind of dream of the Outlander world as though there were something about it that would drive us throw away a life of flushing toilets, antibiotics and tampons, if we were just given the chance.
Well, one answer is that love is seductive, itself. And Outlander is kind of a love letter to, well, love. But it is also a love letter to the novel form, to the imagination, to the senses that can be aroused simply through words in a story.
Outlander has the characters necessary to really wallop us with idea of what romantic love can be, if only in a novel. Other love stories have been written, even of love across the centuries, but it’s hard to find a story that stirs feelings of ardor and attachment to its protagonists the way Outlander does. Jamie and Claire seem to have what everyone wants and then some, with her brains and delicate toughness and his wild muscularity and refined intellect. How many languages does the man speak?
They’re both brave but vulnerable, with that vulnerability creating the lovely bare intimacy that comes when all guards are abandoned. Storytellers like to do that, don’t they? And Gabaldon has pretty much done a tome’s worth of it with delightful and delicious results.
They’re also both selfish, or, at the very least unwilling in the most stubborn ways to do as the other wishes if it goes against what they require. Claire continually brings danger to herself and others. Jamie tells Claire that he’ll tell her why he married her when he wants to and only if he wants to. Aaaaaargh! Who does he think he is? And, yet, isn’t that part of his charm?
So, really, Outlander celebrates—and raises to high form—some of the conventions that make love stories great. Need. Turbulent times. The couple thrown together, lovers with good and bad in them who really seem human and are, therefore, more befitting the terms ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ than so many other novels’ characters, just as colorful, but just not as ‘true.’ To create a story so expressive of the best in adventure and romance is, in itself, an expression of love and appreciation for storytelling. It’s a love letter.
Then there are the seemingly little things.
It’s all well and good for a romantic coupling to infect us with a fevered love bug, but how does one explain the pleasure of reading pages and pages about Claire’s work in the dispensary? How is it that something so seemingly mundane can suck us into the world as effectively as pagan rituals, dirks and swords, and family intrigue? How do we eat up the heavily-accented voices? That can be so cumbersome to the enjoyment of a novel, but here it is just one of the many details that permeate the novel to create a vacuum effect. Into the story we go.
Gabaldon seems to delight in every word. Don’t you get the feeling each was lovingly put down on paper? I imagine the reality has a bit more to do with intellectual elbow grease and a good computer, but it seems like a labor of love. It seems like Gabaldon’s imagination sweat the story onto the paper. And now we have something wonderful in our hands just waiting to be cooed over. Those are the long-term results of an effective love letter.
Finally, there are the love scenes themselves, which work with the story to evoke enough emotion to make the reading almost difficult sometimes. And they are extremely effective in revealing character. The love scenes actually manage to drive the plot forward by affecting the characters. Everything in the novel contributes somehow—to mood, character development, the plot. And, so, Outlander seduces us.
Just as a good love letter should.
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Aniko Eva Nagy reads, teaches and writes in Boston, Massachusetts, which she is happy to call her hometown, perhaps one of the best cities for a book lover. Head over to her blog, tipsywords.wordpress.com, for thoughts on the joy of books, and a bunch of general bookishness.