Go Tell the Bees that I Am Gone

Go Tell the Bees that I Am Gone - Diana Gabaldon

Jennifer de Klerk: Diana Gabaldon and the Outlander series doesn’t need any introduction from me, not after several awards for her eight Really Big novels, three smaller novels, several novellas and a successful TV series.

However, I need to thank her for several months of absorbed immersion. The ninth Really Big novel, which continues the adventures of Claire and Jamie during the American Revolution – with side trips to 1749, 1968 and 1980 – was sent to me for review some months ago, but before I could tackle its impressive 800 or so pages, I had to catch up on the story.

That took some doing. I had read a couple of the earlier novels and avidly enjoyed the excellent TV series, Outlander, starring Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe, but that only takes you as far as The Fiery Cross (No 5).

That left A Breath of Snow and Ashes, An Echo in the Bone and Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (all sizable) before I could make sense of Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone. Gone? Gone where? Surely not? It’s an ominous title …

No, judging by the cliff-hanger ending, number 10 is on the way, but as Gabaldon says it takes about three years to write each Really Big novel, we’ll have to wait – impatiently.

Meanwhile I can go back to the beginning – Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn and The Fiery Cross. No matter how good a TV series is (and this is close to the story), there is so much more in a book – unremitting research to give an authentic feel of the period and its history, plus fascinating medical facts on and off the battlefields.

To that, add Gabaldon’s gift for humorous situations and very real characters in everyday dramas, such as coping with a pig in the pantry, and the not-so-everyday dramas such as bears, smugglers, pirates, kidnappers, Indians and invading armies, all interspersed with the endless domestic toil of turning food into meals without fridges and microwaves.

It’s not easy being an expat from the 20th century in the shadow of the war you know is coming. Yes, the Americans will win, but at what cost? And who will die?

Some baulk at the idea of stepping through standing stones from one time to another. As a fantasy as well as history fan, for me it adds an extra dimension to a captivating, giant-sized story. Time, space, the sweep of history, life, religion, language, customs, ways of living in different societies … Diana Gabaldon has a license to explore them all – and she does.

At the centre of the story is the enduring love and passion between Claire, misplaced in time, and Jamie, her gorgeous, virile red-haired Highlander. It is celebrated tastefully and frequently.

In the latest novel, the immediate family is reunited at Fraser’s Ridge after Roger and Brianna have a tortuous trip through time, the first drums of the American revolution can be heard in the distance, and life is tense and full of action for this extensive cast of characters.

If you have not yet entered Diana Gabaldon’s world, do yourself a favour; but you’ll have to put aside a sizeable block of time. Believe me, it’s worth it.

Go Tell the Bees that I Am Gone
Diana Gabaldon
Penguin/Random House
ISBN: 9781780894133

Jennifer de Klerk is editor of Artslink.co.za