If the writing is clumsy and lazy, I don’t care if it’s a terrific story. I liked the plot of The Da Vinci Code, but had a hell of a time getting through Dan Brown’s cliched and clunky prose. I had exactly zero interest in reading Fifty Shades of Gray because I had heard from everyone I knew who had read it (and there were quite a few amongst my circle, including some of my daughters’ friends) that the writing was awful. When I was in a book club in Connecticut in the nineties and early 00’s I tried hard to get through an unusual assignment, the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s series Outlander. The set up of the story, while not wildly original, was well done, and the characters, particularly the protagonist, Claire, compelling. The Scottish history was interesting and extremely well researched. But, man, I had to slog through that several hundred page sucker. So it was with some surprise that I find myself recommending the TV series Outlander that is about to start its second season on the STARZ network.
It is a bit like Harry Potter for grown ups, entering this fantastical world, a meticulous rendering of a time and place two and half centuries ago. Unlike Harry Potter, this world is based on what was once a real world, and the history behind the plot points is one of the series strongest pulls. We Americans, even those of us, like myself, whose ancestry is almost exclusively from the British Isles, are fairly uninformed about Scottish history, so watching the history unfold is different, than, say, watching something that is based here. The actress who plays Claire is a revelation, she exudes equal amounts of sex appeal and intelligence, and she is beautiful in a thirties movie start kind of way, like a modern Myrna Loy. Caught between two great loves in two different centuries (ah, the challenges of being a time traveler), she manages to make us believe and care about her situation, to root for her to survive and even thrive in the 18th century, but also, maybe, to find her way back to her real home in 1940’s post war Britain. The girl has what they used to call gumption and watching her navigate the unabashedly man’s world of that time is another reminder that times, well, they have changed a bit. It is smart and literate fun, a guilty pleasure but not THAT guilty. One of the biggest pleasures is simply the gorgeous Scottish landscape. Another one is, well, this show is sexy! Told through the main character’s point of view, she is an unapologetically sexual woman, which shouldn’t be subversive but in this context still is. It is the best kind of escapist fare, watching a character with a world full of problems that aren’t your own. It is just good old fashioned story-telling, and it proves an old saw, that great books often don’t make good movies but just okay books do.
My husband Mitchell tried it a couple of times, but it didn’t pull him in. That’s fine with me, we have Game of Thrones to watch together. This one is all mine.