I’ll admit that I have always thought of the romance genre as dirty books without all the good parts. And if there happened to be any good parts, there would be frequent use of side-splitting euphemisms like “purple-headed love warrior.” I can say that Outlander by Diana Gabaldon follows neither of these tropes. However, I have no idea if Outlander is truly representative of romance as a genre.
The book follows the adventures of a married World War II British nurse magically cast back into the 18th century Scottish highlands. As she plots a way to get back home, she finds herself forced to marry a Scottish lord (well, not really forced—more of a political arrangement) and the drama that ensues as various persons, Scottish and English, try to figure out who she is, all set against the backdrop of a potential Catholic uprising in Scotland.
And if there happened to be any good parts, there would be frequent use of side-splitting euphemisms like “purple-headed love warrior.”
In your local books store, Outlander can most likely be found in contemporary fiction. Not romance, but contemporary fiction. Barnes & Noble and Amazon cross-reference the book online as romance, contemporary fiction, and historical fiction. I suppose all of them could apply. Like many of the books on Courtney’s Year of Genre list, it is a work capable of transcending its genre, up to a point. But over other romance books, this one has a leg up on the bookshelf…just as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has a leg up on any post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, or even a bigger leg up on the exquisitely written comic book Walking Dead.
And the book does transcend its genre as I see it, to a point. It’s also intriguing to me in the ways that it seems to rise above genre fiction. For example:
- It’s 100 pages before the main character ends up in the 1700s, and almost 100 pages more before there is any hint of romantic tension.
- There is frequent use of antiquated Scottish/English words that needed to be looked up every two pages.
- The repeated and nonchalant use of the term cock as a euphemism, and seemingly the only euphemism used in a way intended to be titillating.
- A couple of pivotal and fairly explicit sex scenes, one of which was so heavily Dominant/Submissive that it would not have been out of place in the Year of Genre: Erotica entry The Story of O.
- Allowing the main character to fall in love with her 18th century husband by including an identical ancestor of her 20th century husband who is evil, mostly gay, and 100% rapey.
The sex scenes were sort of shocking. So was the use of cock, but makes sense if you use the common assumption that romance books are for women, so the author may have been looking for a durable word for male anatomy that allowed her to avoid referring to “purple-headed love warriors.” Overall the book was extremely well written, but not in a way that I would say elevated the book above fine craftsmanship, as there is also no real subtly or intended subtext to the work.
The sex scenes were sort of shocking.
The book was also amazingly frustrating for me. The amount of time devoted to 18th century Scottish life and politics, though seemingly well researched and full of 200-year-old knowledge, were excruciatingly boring. Having an identical ancestor of the main character’s 20th century husband—the aforementioned evil, rapey, gay man—who has the hots for her in the 18th century was highly offensive to me. It was used as a device to allow the main character to overcome her feelings of guilt by falling in love with another man. And all the men seem to have a touch of rapeyness to them, it’s just that they make this one evil, you know, because he likes men.
Overall the damn thing is 688 pages (my eBook was closer to 800) and there is too much distance between plot points to make this book a compelling read in any way. The only reason the book is a page-turner early on is to see if she’ll even get there.
In the end, I’ll admit, I did not finish. I reached a point where I was confident I knew how the author wrote (about 600 pages into my copy), and that though I did wish to know what happened to the characters, I wasn’t willing to slog through any more of it. Plus, it seemed all the really good sex scenes were already over. So, you know, if anyone knows about any good sex scenes after Claire and Jamie reach Jamie’s family home, let me know and I’ll take a gander.
So, I guess, if this is exemplary romance, I’ll have to say romance is not my personal taste. Even when it has all the dirty parts, as there just seems to be too many boring parts.