Thursday, January 8, 2015

Book review: Outlander: Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander: Cross Stitch (1)

Written by: Diana Gabaldon

Published: 1991

Synopsis: The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives. (Via Goodreads)

A hedgehog? And just how does a hedgehog make love?" he demanded.

I'd like to say there was a valid reason I decided to finally give in and read Outlander. Maybe because I'd heard such great reviews from people like Sarah, or I wanted to read it before I gave the TV show a watch. But honestly, I 100% only read it for the promise of sexy Scottish fellas in kilts. And sexy Scottish fellas in kilts were delivered in droves. Actually, the title of sexy Scot is really reserved for the sexy Scot of the novel - Jamie Fraser. Tall, strong and with hair the colour of fire.

Pictured: TV depiction of sexiest Scot* does not live up to my imagination
I imagine your interest in this book hinges on whether or not you warm to Jamie as a character because if he isn't on the page doing something, the characters present are talking about him or lusting after him. Honestly, in the context of the book he's the greatest thing since sliced bread and it gets pretty funny to see how far people are willing to go to get close to him. I'm looking directly at you here Laoghaire. He's perhaps the most romanticised person I've encountered in a book since Edward Cullen. And while I enjoy Jamie a whole lot more than Sparkle-butt, everyone's obsession with the outlaw is also kind of baffling. He's treated with a reverence and a fear that I don't think he ever really lives up to - but I guess when your life is filled with murderous outlaws and sadistic Redcoats it's easy for a nice guy to be built up to mythic standards. Also, romance.

Claire is another character that I think you either love or hate. I really love that Galbadon chose the end of WWII as the launching place for the novel because it was a time when women were finding themselves reverted once again to second class citizens in the wake of the returning male population. After helping build bombs and aircraft and serving as nurses on the battlefront, women weren't content with just being secretaries or housewives. Claire herself is struggling to find a hobby now that her career as a nurse is effectively over and this causes even more problems when she finds herself 200 years in the past where women are seen as being fit for even less. If this novel had taken place 20 years earlier or later I don't think Claire would have been nearly as combative as she was when she tried to adjust to 18th century Scottish life. That being said, she does a remarkable job blending in with the Gaelic speaking masses. If I were to find myself in her position, I'm pretty sure I would have been burnt at the stake the second I called Jamie bae or whipped out my smart phone. And if I wasn't I would have died of hunger almost immediately since I know nothing about plants or nursing or life in the Scottish highlands.

The novel is a little long. I think it could have benefited from a heavy edit to get rid of a couple of the  barely described sex scenes or slimmed down some of Claire's trips to the garden to pick herbs. I get it, they used a lot of herbs in their medicine back then and Claire knew all their Latin names. I don't care how big her basket is, please take me back to a scene with Geillis (who is totally Stevie Nicks) or Dougal, who I had way too big a crush on. Apparently Dougal in the TV show looks like this:

Which squashes any hope of me bothering with the TV show at all**. I was imagining him more like a Scottish Javier Bardem, which makes sense because this is a ROMANCE.

Length be damned though, this book was fun. I revelled in the castle drama and Claire's temper tantrums. The scenes at Wentworth Prison shifted from horrific to hilarious and even though something like that should be completely jarring, in this book it works.  The book is campy and inconsistent with its fantasy, but Gabaldon is also a fantastic writer - which if I'm being honest I wasn't really expecting. I'm not entirely convinced I want to keep going with the series straight away (they're so freaking huge and I'm still recovering from finishing GOT three years ago) but they're now well and truly on my radar.

*I haven't watched the TV show but seriously, this is Jamie? Ugh, I was imagining Scottish Charlie Weasley and this guy is no Charlie Weasley. (maybe it's just this picture but he looks very Theon Greyjoy-y and ewwww). 

**I'm sorry Graham McTavish. You were great in Red Dwarf but you are not *my* Dougal.


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