Gabaldon, Diana: (105) The Fiery Cross

Read The Fiery Cross last night; yes, all of it; no, I don’t remember what time I went to sleep.

I suppose I should explain about my reading habits. For me, What Happens Next can be a worse addiction than that of chocolate (which I have been craving fiercely all semester, now that I’ve been trying not to keep it on hand. But anyway.). Mostly I experience this with long-awaited continuations of a story, as with this book, though it also happens if I fall headlong into a new story. So the first read tends to be very fast (how fast? Well, I generally read, very roughly, about a hundred pages an hour—and I know it wasn’t that late when I went to bed).

So that’s the first craving assuaged, when I know what’s happened. (Does Bonnet come back, how’s Ian, what happens with the Regulators? Etc.) But some details are obviously a bit blurry around the edges, and the book isn’t properly settled yet. That is, events within the book haven’t necessarily found their place in relation to each other, the structure, or subtler themes; and the book as a whole might not have settled—when I assess works, I tend to think of them as though they were arranged in spatial relationships to one another inside my skull, and the book might not have found its place in that array yet. Which means I put the book down, take a deep breath (or get some sleep), and start re-reading immediately.

Is this efficient? Probably not. Can I help it? Well, I don’t know. I was realizing, while reading The Fiery Cross, that I do regret my lack of willpower. Not so much gulping it down; in a way, I kind of like getting both the roller-coaster ride and the slow unfolding. But there are a bunch of excerpts on Gabaldon’s website from this and other forthcoming books, and while I tried to make myself actually read them when I came across them in the book, it was sort of a weird experience. (I do find it interesting to note small changes in the texts along the way; no, I don’t compare line-by-line, but I have a good memory for text. Also, just whether the excerpts make it into the book is interesting; one from the web page and one from the Outlandish Companion don’t.) It was as though I knew part of the framework of the book, and was seeing the flesh put on it. (Like “The Parliament of Rooks” issue in Sandman, though I don’t find this disturbing in the way actual flesh would be.) The excerpts makes it harder for me to take the book as a whole on the first read, but I don’t know if I could stop myself from reading them. And maybe it’s not such a big deal, when I re-read as much as I do.

(Something similar happens when first chapters get put up. For instance, I started reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest novel, The Curse of Chalion, from where the sample chapters left off. I remembered them quite well, but on reflection I think that it would have been better to read the book as a whole the first time, because the plot’s so tightly structured.)

I realize I haven’t said much about the actual book. Well, I will re-read it, slowly, over meals and before bed, and hopefully I will have more useful things to say about it then. Now? Let’s see. Book five of six is a rotten place to start reading a series, in case anyone of you out there were tempted (start with Outlander). In another way, this is book two of three; the series is split into an Old World trilogy (in which the pivotal event was the Scottish Rising of 1745) and a New World trilogy (in which the pivotal event will be the American Revolution). The Revolution hasn’t started yet, but the stirrings are starting to affect our characters already—and leftover business from the ’45 keeps showing up, and not just the Scottish immigrants’ attitude toward the English crown. Speaking generally, the books are about time, history, and change on the one hand, and marriage and love on the other; Gabaldon’s observation of each is still acute. And, well, it’s seriously compulsive and entertaining reading; I was up way past my bedtime. What else do I need to say?

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