Although normally I have a pretty elitist, old-fashioned taste (Flaubert, De Maupassant, Couperus, etc.) my all-time favourite books are those by Diana Gabaldon. For those who don’t know her Outlander -series, short synopsis: Claire travels after WOII to Scotland, falls through magic stones back to the 18th century, meets hot Scot Jamie Fraser and has adventures with him.
Well, the problem with Gabaldons series is that although this is a pretty accurate description, it gives absolutely the wrong view of the series. Officially it’s a fantasy series (because time travel), but I always felt like the time travel was just an excuse to make this stunning historical fiction from a great point of view. It only plays a very minor role in the book and the rest is just historical events (for which Gabaldon did really good research). And although the love between Claire and Jamie is an important part of the story, it never felt like the standard romantic book because it never gets cheesy. Jamie and Claire are both just kind of practical people who don’t keep telling each other that they love them. They know it, and that’s enough, and now we have to go and get involved in a revolution. But that’s hard to explain to people, so sometimes the books have a bit the wrong reputation. For example, because I’ve read the books, Goodreads recommends me to read every book with a shirtless highlander on the cover. Again, the romance in this book is not the main thing! I feel so annoyed by these kind of recommendations, also from sites that handpick the books and don’t use algorythms, because they obviously haven’t read the books or just don’t care about a good recommendation.
So what is it that I like about these books? First of all, the historical part. I have always had in interest in history and this book has taught me so much about so many historical events in Europe and and North-America. Gabaldon is a great researcher and flawlessly combines fact and fiction. Second, the characters are great. Very diverse, but mostly smart, cunning and sarcastic. Most of all, they don’t do stupid thing. Too many times I have read books (or seen movies, it happens a lot with movies), where you think: Why are you doing this?! That is a horrible idea! But Jamie and Claire have enough brain to know when to shut up, and that’s nice. They are also very practical, and those are my favourite bits. I have always liked the parts of books about ‘normal life’, like the food and doing homework in Harry Potter, the setting up of the new online magazine in All The Bright Places or Oliver just living normal life and having classes in Oliver Twist. It makes me feel very close to the characters, and I’m always glad they have these calm periods in their life. In the Outlander-series, Jamie and Claire repeatedly have to build a new life, from actually building a cabin to tending to a garden or Claire have her doctor’s office. These things make them feel so alive to me and I love how Gabaldon always finds time to make Claire and Jamie ground this way.
Having said all this, which books would I recommend if you like Outlander? Well, if you like their involvement in revolution, you should read Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. If you like to learn more about the French revolution specifically, read the young adult book Guillotine by Simone van der Vlugt. And don’t forget to read everything Gabaldon wrote: some characters got a spin-off and those books are also incredible, and there’s even a graphic novel of the first book (The Exile)!