I’ve worked my way through the Outlander series of books. I turned down the corner of the pages where passages spoke to me. Here are my comments:
On big fat books:
“What is it—twelve hundred pages? Aye, I think so, After all, it is difficult to sum up the complications of a life in a short space with any hope of constructing an accurate account.”
“True. I have heard the point made, though, that the novelist’s skill lies in the artful selection of detail. Do you not suppose that a volume of such length may indicate a lack of discipline in such selection, and hence a lack of skill?”
“I have seen books where this is the case, to be sure,…an author seeks by sheer inundation of detail to overwhelm the reader into belief. In this case, however, I think it isna so. Each character is most carefully considered, and all the incidents chose seem necessary to the story. No, I think it is true that some stories simply require a greater space in which to be told.”
“Of course, I admit to some prejudice in that regard,…I should have been delighted had the book been twice as long as it was.”
Since Gabaldon’s novels run to 1000 pages + and nothing is superfluous I’m wondering if she shares my high opinion (and love) of big fat books.
We often look at the past as some kind of idyllic Eden but would you really like to go back in time to pit toilets and no antibiotics?
I had been taking careful note of the machines—all the contrivances of modern daily life—and more important, of my response to them. The train to Edinburgh, the plane to Boston, the taxicab from the airport, and all the dozens of tiny mechanical flourishes attending—vending machines, streetlights, the plane’s mile-high lavatory, with its swirl of nasty blue-green disinfectant, whisking waste and germs away with the push of a button. Restaurants, with their tidy certificates from the Department of Health, guaranteeing at least a better than even chance of escaping food poisoning when eating therein. Inside my own house, the omnipresent buttons that supplied light and heat and water and cooked food.
“And it’s no use to shout at a stubborn man, or beat him either; it only makes him more set on having his way.”
Gee, whatever could she be talking about?
On living somewhere foreign:
“You’ll not know how it is, to live among strangers for so long.”
“”Aye, maybe you will”. He said. ”You change, no? Much as ye want to keep the memories of home, and who ye are—you’ve changed. Not one of the strangers; ye could never be that, even if ye wanted to. But different from who ye were, too.”
After about five years living abroad, for me anyway the guest culture becomes what feels like ‘home’ and home starts feeling and sounding foreign.
On the sudden joy found in being present:
“It had happened many times before, but it always took me by surprise. Always in the midst of great stress, wading waist-deep in trouble and sorrow, as doctors do, I would glance out a window, open a door, look into a face, and there it would be, unexpected and unmistakable, a moment of peace.”
We don’t know everything yet:
“”Well, I say it is the place of science only to observe,” he said. ”To seek cause where it may be found, but not to realize that there are many things in the world for which no cause shall be found; not because it does not exist, but because we know too little to find it. It is not the place of science to insist on explanation—but only to observe, in hopes that the explanation will manifest itself.””
Drums of Autumn-Diana Gabaldon
Gabaldon states in an interview that she was tired of romances that stopped at the altar. So she wanted to tell a married love story. Marriage is hard. It’s hard to be half a couple—it’s hard to support the relationship without forfeiting yourself.
“…ye canna be my conscious.”
In spite of everything, I felt a lightening of spirit, as though some indefinable burden had dropped away.
“You’re the best man I’ve ever met,” I said. ”I only meant…it’s such a strain, to try to live for two people. To try to make them fit your ideas of what’s right…you do it for a child, of course, you have to, but even then, it’s dreadfully hard work. I couldn’t do it for you—it would be wrong to try.”
A coping strategy I have is to memorize every detail about a nice moment. Then I recall that memory when things aren’t going well. My recollections are usually at the beach. But they can be anything:
It was one of those strange moments that came to him rarely, but never left. A moment that stamped itself on heart and brain, instantly recallable in every detail, for all of his life.
There was no telling what made these moments different from any other, though he knew then when they came. …the still moments, as he called them to himself—they came with no warning, to print a random image of the most common things inside his brain, indelible.
At first he had thought the loneliness would kill him, but once he had learned it would not, he came to value the solitude…
While I do realize that not everybody gets their energy from being alone-like I do, I am still mystified that more people don’t seek out solitude just for the reflection and peace-what’s so scary about that?
The Fiery Cross-Diana Gabaldon
Some of us are utterly porous to the feelings of other; we wonder how those in the helping professions manage. Obviously they aren’t like this.
I knew the proximity of people with disfiguring conditions or obvious illness bothered her, though she did her best to disguise it. It wasn’t distaste, I thought, but rather a crippling empathy.
I just thought this was cool and clever quote of John Adams;
‘I am a warrior, that my son may be a merchant – and his son may be a poet.’
“Let pass the judgment of God.”
What it’s like to pray with a friend (a Quaker named Husband):
Husband’s soft gray eyes had flecks of blue in them, and tiny splinters of black. His lashes were thick, and there was a small swelling at the base of one, a healing sty. The tiny dome was smooth and red, fading from a ruby dot at the center through such successions of crimson, pink and rose red as might have graced the dawn sky on the day of Creation.
The face before him was sculpted with lines that drew rough arcs from nose to mouth, that curved above the heavy, grizzled brows whose every hair was long and arched with the grace of a bird’s wing. The lips were broad and smooth, a dusky rose; the white edge of a tooth glistened, strangely hard by contrast with the pliable flesh that sheltered it.
…stood without moving, wondering at the beauty of what he saw. The notion of Husband as a stocky man of middle age and indeterminate feature had no meaning; what he saw now was a heartbreaking singularity, a thing unique and wonderful; irreplaceable.
It struck him that this was the same feeling with which he had studied his infant son, marveling at the perfection of each small toe, the curve of cheek and ear that squeezed his heart, the radiance of the newborn skin that let the innocence within shine through. And here was the same creation, no longer new, perhaps less innocent, but no less marvelous.
He looked down and saw his own hands then, still gripping Husband’s smaller ones. A sense of awe came on him, with the realization of the beauty of his own fingers, the curving bones of wrist and knuckle, the ravishing loveliness of a thin red scar that ran across the joint of his thumb.
Husband’s breath left him in a deep sigh, and he pulled his hands away. …felt momentarily bereft, but then felt the peace of the room settle upon him once more, the astonishment of beauty succeeded by a sense of deep calm.
A Breath of Snow and Ashes-Diana Gabaldon
Unfortunately, I know this feeling;
“They do say that God protects fools—but I think even the Almighty will lose patience now and then.”
When I first became an expat I viewed living abroad constantly with wonder and awe. But after awhile real life took over again;
I remembered what it was like, that feeling that one was living in an elaborate make-believe. The feeling that reality existed in another time, another place. I remembered and with a small shock, realized that is was now only a memory—for me, time had shifted, as though my illness had pushed me through some final barrier.
Anyone who has tried to diet successfully for any length of time knows;
‘The body has nay conscience’. I dinna ken that that’s so—but it’s true that the body doesn’t generally admit the possibility of nonexistence. And if ye exist–well, ye need food, that’s all.”
Earlier I wrote a review of Outlander.
Other book reviews: