Thursday, December 30, 2010

Quality Literature or Bodice Ripper? Maybe both...

I used to worry that my desire for constant aural or visual stimulation was rooted in deep seated emotional problems. Then I decided even it was, eff that. I love audiobooks. A few weeks ago my audiobook service, Audible, had a $5 dollar book sale. Seeking to embrace my new hobby, I bought 6 audiobooks sort of on a whim. One of those was The Prince of Tides. That worked out spectacularly. I tend to choose audiobooks both based on subject but also on length. I like to feel I'm getting my money's worth. So when I saw a 32 hour novel, I took notice. (Roots is a little longer. I bought that, too). This 32 hour epic is called Outlander.

Outlander takes place, mostly, in the Scottish Highlands in the 1740's. It is a fabulous work of historical fiction. It made me want to watch Braveheart again, something I thought I would never ever do. So here is the thing: This book contains a lot of "adult content." Like a lot. It's mostly tasteful, and some of it is downright smokin'. But I find myself discrediting this book as less than real literature because of all the sex. Am I really so puritanical? My views on hard work say otherwise.

So the conclusion I have come to is this is a wonderful story with interesting characters set in an interesting time-period and it has lots of graphic sex. Does the latter take away from the former? Only if you let it.

Now that I have convinced you this book is a little, um, racy, let me tell you a little more about the plot. The book centers around British Nurse Claire and Scottish Hunk Jamie. Claire is intelligent and feisty. Jamie is like Scottish Hercules. Let's just say, I will never look at Grounds Keeper Willy the same again. Claire, the Outlander, the stranger not from the Highlands, must navigate the world of Scottish Clan relations and British nastiness. Jamie, a mysterious yet gallant man, soon finds his fate intertwined with Claire's.

If you are a history nerd like me there is another fabulous element of the book. The author, Diana Gabaldon, clearly did a lot of research on everyday life in the Scottish Highlands of the 18th century. There is a huge amount of information on how people lived and the culture of the time.

Because I listened to this, rather than read it, I need to comment on the reader, Davina Porter. She was very good with the Scottish and British Accents, but I found her "man voice" to be a little jarring. She was fabulous with the woman characters, though. I would rate her 4 out five ipods.
One last thing it has going for it: Outlander is the first in a VERY long series. If you like the first book, you have more to look forward to. I personally love series, as long as they don't decline in quality (I'm looking at you, Shrek). I just started listening to the sequel, Dragon Fly in Amber. So in 38 hours I can let you know.

What do you think? Does lots of sex preclude something from being great literature?

by Diana Gabaldon
4 ipods


  1. Wow.
    Complete and good push for this audio book. I am interested in why the reader's male voice jarred you so much. As for other tastes, can we make requests? I think you writing about things you know and don't know is really interesting. keep it up.

  2. One of my favorite books of all time, "The Dice Man" by Luke Rhinehart, is FULL of sex-- yet I was so taken by his ideas and style that I didn't notice that it was chock-full of vulgarity until my second read-through (and this did not stop me from recommending it to my own mother). I think sex scenes can be a great opportunity for an author to exhibit uniqueness while covering one of the oldest topics possible.

    And now, a scene from one of my favorite 'bodice rippers:"

    Marge: My, these seas are certainly heaving.
    Pirate: Well, no more than your bountiful bosom, [sly] milady.
    Marge: [laughs rakishly] Does that earring mean you're a pirate? [refers to earring in pirate's right ear]
    Pirate: Kinda.

  3. My friend Kat had a copy of this rad-looking book about how romance novels work, called "Beyond Heaving Bosoms" ( Maybe you want to check it out?