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When my mum gave me this book to read I already knew it was good by the way she kept pushing it into my hand and saying "You must read this!". With hindsight I realised that she just wanted someone to talk to about it! Overall this book and the subsequent sequels are "those sort of books", you know the ones, you can't just read them but you have to discuss them and dissect them to pieces. I was expecting a historical romance but what I read was a complex interwoven tale of such magnitude that the reader feels a personal connection to the characters.
Diana Gabaldon is truly an exceptional writer and her amazing ability to describe the drama, passion and violence of 18th century Scotland makes these books the most memorable I have ever read. Whilst many would describe the books as "historical romance" don't let that put you off if you are not a fan of romantic fiction. The love story between the two main characters, James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser and Claire Beauchamp Randall, is the backbone which runs throughout the book but to describe it as a historical romance is like describing Scotland as that place north of England. If you are expecting a fluffy story and a light read this book isn't for you. It is gritty, harsh, tragic and barbaric in places but this of offset with oodles of courage, determination, humour and passion. Oh yes plenty of passion!
I always find it difficult to write a synopsis without giving too much away but I'll try. At the beginning of the book we see a feisty combat nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall visiting Scotland with her husband Frank Randall after the ending of the second world war. On a trip to a stone circle, Craigh na Dun, she is thrown back in time to 1743 in the middle of a skirmish between the Clan McKenzie and a group of English dragoons. The Scots, wary of her identity, take her with them to Castle Leoch on the suspicion that she is a spy. Claire is later sought by the sadistic and corrupt captain of the British garrison as he too believes that she isn't who she claims to be (well of course she can't tell them the truth) and in order to protect her she has little choice to marry the young outlawed highlander Jamie Fraser. Torn between her loyalty to her husband Frank Randall and her own safety she objects to the marriage at first but having already gotten to know Jamie, she knows that he is a man filled with honour and courage who will protect her no matter what the cost. Eventually through the trust they share they fall deeply in love and create a bond so strong and passionate that nothing can tear them apart. Not even two centuries ...
This is currently the initial book in a series of seven. The second book is called "Dragonfly In Amber" followed by "Voyager", "Drums Of Autumn", "Firey Cross", "A Breath Of Snow And Ashes" and the latest one is called "An Echo In The Bone".
(Note: some of this review is copied from my lens at squidoo.)
I have a weakness for time-travel novels, less because of their sci-fi element and more because they allow for good and often funny social contrasting. A bit like the prince and the pauper scenario but across time rather than class boundaries. Strangely enough, a lot of these time-travel books are actually classified outside sci-fi genre, in fact some are even tentatively placed in the so-called mainstream.
'Cross-stitch' (as the British edition of 'Outlander' is titled) is, however, a definite genre book, the genre in question being a historical romance and 'Cross-stitch' being a bodice-ripper extraordinaire, first part of five-part series and at over 800 pages per volume something to be reckoned with.
Claire Randall is a qualified nurse and a bit of an amateur herbalist. She is on holiday in the Highlands with her husband Frank following their reunion after the end of WW2. The books starts in 1946, but a visit to a standing stone circle quickly results in Claire being transported back 200 years to the year 1743, and the lead-up to the Jacobite rebellion and Culloden. There (and then) Claire finds her feet, manages to use her knowledge of hygiene and medicine to gain something of a reputation as a healer and eventually meets, marries and falls in love with a young and beautiful Highland soldier Jamie Fraser. Their love is passionate and their adventures are many, including attempted rape - thrice, witch burning, homosexual torture, bare handed wolf-fighting and a brief encounter with the Loch Ness Monster.
The story is set against a background of Highland nature and history. We meet the clansmen and the chieftains, the Watch, redcoats and their English officers, witches, healers and midwives, bards and priests, Gypsies and lawyers. Despite the length it's a rollicking read, obviously a very easy one at that and if you manage to ignore the failings, an enjoyable way to waste a few evenings.
The failings are two-fold. Firstly, one which is perhaps a general feature of the genre and I shouldn't complain but I will anyway. There is just MUCH too much corny(ish) descriptions of passionate sex in the 'Cross-stitch', at least half of them do nothing to move the story or character development forward and seem pretty much the way the author uses to "reach the gussets of Gloucestershire" (see 1 below). Still, there is just too much skilled hands that cup things, smells of satiated desire and enveloping tides. Think Fanny Hill cum Jilly Cooper cum Captain Correlli's Mandolin and you won't be far wrong. The corniness level is actually not too bad by the genre standards, there is just too much of it!
The second failing with 'Cross-stitch' is its utter psychological anachronism. It's actually strange as Gabaldon does the behaviours, customs and social mores of the time pretty realistically, at least it seems so to a non-historian like me. But all too often this historical realism goes out of the window when the main characters come on stage.
Example: corporal punishment is common for children and wives, criminals and misbehaving clansmen. The 18th century characters accept is as normal as long as it doesn't get excessive, while Claire is appalled. Leaving aside the degree to which a British nurse from 1946 would be realistically appalled by corporal punishment, so far so good. But then comes a scene when Claire and her newly wedded husband Jamie engage in an extended reminiscence and analysis of the effect the childhood thrashings had on him and his relationship with his father (thankfully for the realism, he's not at all traumatised). Excuse me, but I can sniff a stench of post-psychotherapy, post-Spock, post-60's USA, not exactly in place in 18th century Scotland.
Similarly, in a scene in which a heavily pregnant woman launches into extremely sensual description of what it is like to be pregnant in front of not only her sister in law but also her husband and her brother, with the description including comparisons to the sexual act and references to orgasm, all psycho-historical validity disappears into the Scottish haar. Don't get me wrong, the description was quite good if bit kitschy and would be reasonably in place at an encounter group for faculty wives in the 70's Berkeley, but I just cannot believe that a minor Scottish noblewoman, even a Catholic and a wild Highlander, even as feisty and earthmotherish as the one in question would have such a conversation. Ever.
Add to that the fact that Claire is commonly referred to as 'lassie' despite being nominally a widow, and in her mid-twenties, and even after she marries is a subject of frequent sexual banter from her husband's men at arms, in his presence, and you will see to what degree you need to suspend disbelief to enter into the spirit of things with 'Cross-stitch'.
If you manage to, though, then there is a colourful adventure, lots of humour, funny banter and a likeable, energetic, rational, foul-mouthed heroine, charming love interest in the form of Jamie, a complicated, decadent and wonderfully perverted villain plus of course the Great Love and the Romance of Scotland with plenty of local flavour.
I think this book would have been much better had some of the passion descriptions been curtailed and had the author refrained from giving some of her major 18th century characters modern sensibilities.
Within the confines of bubble-gum fiction this deserves 4 stars, but I will be mean and give 3 for these psychoanalytical conversations.
Not a book to buy, but borrow by all means for some brainless fun.
If you are still tempted, it's available on Amazon for £5.59 for the 864 pages.
1)This is a quote, I am not clever enough to invent such a phrase. I will donate my copy of 'Elegance' to a person that correctly identifies the source.
This novel, 'Outlander' in its original American version, was re-titled 'Cross Stitch' when imported to the UK. But it's not, as I half-expected, a book about sewing. Not at all...
The story begins just outside Inverness in 1946. Clare and Frank were married shortly before the war, then parted for the duration; Clare worked as a nurse. Now they are back together again and taking a short holiday. Frank is an intellectual type who is fascinated by Scottish history and researching his family tree. Clare (who narrates the entire book) loves him and enjoys his company but finds him amusingly tedious when he starts lecturing on his favourite subject.
It's clear from the first sentence that this book has a mystical side to it - a 'disappearance'. Indeed, the blurb on the back tells us that Clare is going to find herself in the middle of a skirmish in 1743, so the first few chapters are really setting the scene. I found myself gripped almost from the start: observing Clare in her natural surroundings, learning a little of the history of the place. I wondered what the significance was of her interest in herbalism, and whether something dramatic would happen at an ancient stone circle which she visits. When Clare is suddenly transported back 200 years in time, it takes her some time to realise what's happened, and even longer to accept it. At first she thinks she has somehow got caught up in the making of a historical film, so strong is her desire to think rationally. She finds herself totally disorientated, thought to be a prostitute because of her skimpy modern clothes, yet able to be useful with her understanding of modern medicine.
This happens just a few chapters into the book. I didn't know quite what to expect with a novel that evidently combined time travel with history, but I was impressed right from the beginning with the crisp writing style. I felt it was almost reminiscent of Susan Howatch in places - Diana Gabaldon moves the plot forward at exactly the right pace to hold my interest with minimal descriptions. I had a pretty good picture of Clare by the time she does her disappearing: a confident, intelligent, and also passionate young woman. These qualities become more evident as she is forced to adapt to her new circumstances, entirely at the mercy of the Scottish rebels into whose hands she falls.
Underlying the whole book is a deep and thrilling romance which manages to be moving without being trite, erotic without being cringeworthy. The historical surroundings are so well researched that I found Jacobite Scotland coming alive to me in a way I could never have imagined. I have never before managed to become engrossed in a novel where most of the characters were male, and much of the action involved fighting. But this book was gripping! For a week I managed to read just a chapter or two at bedtime... thereafter I was completely hooked and finished the remaining 500 or more pages (it's not a short book! There are over 850 pages in all) in just three days.
I wondered at one stage why the author bothered to start Clare off in the 20th century - why not simply set the novel in 1743? But gradually I realised that it's a very clever plot device: we see Jacobite Scotland from the point of view of someone we can relate to, whose values and ideals are similar to ours, but quite different from those in the society where she finds herself. She has to confront some quite difficult issues: not just corporal punishment, but severe and painful beating of children (and sometimes even wives!) as necessary discipline. She discovers why some women were considered to be witches and learns a great deal about mass hysteria and medical ignorance. No judgement is made: naturally I found myself seeing these issues from Clare's 20th century perspective at first. But when she begins to understand why these things happen, it enabled me to catch a glimpse myself of why such different values were held 200 years previously.
There's a fair amount of violence in the novel, and this is something which would normally put me off completely. But it managed to stay just the right side of goriness so that I was shocked but not quite sickened. There is considerable tension - inevitable given the circumstances of the book - but no real heart-stopping suspense. Even when Clare herself is in serious danger - more than once! - the fact that she relates the book reassured me that she at least would not be killed, no matter what else might happen to her. Some images remained with me for a few days after reading the book, but they soon faded; there was much to think about, but nothing to keep me awake at nights.
In addition, a little surprisingly, there's a fine thread of humour that relieves the tension every so often. I was particularly amused at scenes with small children asking innocent questions; there is also some light-hearted banter between adults who have learned to trust each other. I felt as if my mind and emotions were taken on a roller-coaster ride: at one moment horrified at the privations and violence of a society I have never known, yet a few pages later seeing the people as not so different from those I know in the 21st century: behaving the way they do because of their upbringing and circumstances, not because human nature itself has changed.
I would recommend this to almost everyone, whatever their tastes in literature. My only slight reservation would be that ultra-sensitive folk might find it upsetting; I don't think I would have liked it myself as a teenager. I doubt if a child would show much interest in such a lengthy novel but if they did, I wouldn't worry too much since much of the disturbing material is couched cleverly in language that implies rather than describing exactly what happens.
The Arrow paperback edition of the British title, 'Cross Stitch', ISBN 0099911701, is available from Amazon.co.uk at £6.39. The Delta paperback American edition is £7.21. There are various editions available from the Marketplace too, with prices varying from just over a pound up to over £50! Perhaps the best value, though, is to buy it from Play.com where the current price is £5.99, with postage free anywhere in Europe.
All in all, this is a superb book. There are four sequels, to date, and one more due to be published later this year.
To make things simpler, I've decided to write about all five (so far) of Diana Gabaldon's books together. This being the case, there's a slim possibility that this opinion will contain small spoilers for the later books, though I'll try to keep them vague! This opinion has turned out to be pretty long in the end, but it is my first one, so please don't be too harsh! This series begins with 'Cross Stitch' (published as 'Outlander' in the US,) and is the story of Claire, a young woman on holiday with her husband in Scotland in 1945. While exploring a stone circle, she steps through a cleft in one of the stones, and finds herself in 1743. Her confusion about this situation, and then her acceptance of it, supplies the plot of one of the most original and innovative books I have ever read. Although 'Cross Stitch' and its sequels are usually categorised as Romantic Fiction, the romantic aspect of these books is far from the only theme. Our hero doesn't even meet with Claire for almost 70 pages, and even when they do meet, she's still desperately trying to return to the stone circle and the twentieth century! Without wanting to give away too much plot, of course Claire doesn't find her way home straight away, and of course she gets into a large amount of trouble because of the mystery surrounding her sudden appearance in 1743! Her only comfort among all the chaos is one Jamie Fraser - a young, red-headed, attractive and lovable Scottish clansman with a price on his head and a number of complicated issues of his own. Jamie Fraser was voted 'Hero You'd Most Like To Bed' in a 1997 poll, and when you read the books, you'll see why! Throw in a forced marriage, a sadistic English captain, the growing political unrest that will lead to the 1745 Rising, and any number of suspicious eighteenth-century figures, and what you have is a book that is unputdownable in every way. I challenge anybod
y to begin this book and abandon it through boredom! The second book in the series, 'Dragonfly in Amber' is told from the point of view of Claire, back in the twentieth century, and is concerned in the most part with Jamie and Claire's attempts to prevent the 1745 Rising and the battle of Culloden, which would see the complete destruction of the Scottish clans. Claire's knowledge of what is to come proves both useful and dangerous, and ultimately leads both her and Jamie to a series of terrible events and choices, (trying not to spill any beans here!) Anybody who reads this book now will have a major advantage over those of us who read it when it first came out, as the story ends on such a cliff-hanging note that you will have to rush straight out and buy the sequel, which is a far more bearable move than waiting a year or so for it to be printed! 'Voyager', the next book, begins with Claire in 1968, discovering that events did not take place as she had presumed, 200 years earlier, and that she may be able to go back to look for Jamie. We all know that of course she will go back (I refer you to my comment about Jamie Fraser above!) and she re-enters the eighteenth-century timeline in 1766. Naturally, chaos and confusion ensue - anything else would be a disappointment at this point! 'Drums of Autumn', the fourth book, is only partially focussed on the story of Jamie and Claire. When Claire returned to the twentieth century, (under circumstances which I'm not going to reveal!) she subsequently gave birth to a suspiciously red-headed daughter, Brianna, who is now grown-up, and (wait for it...) also appears to be able to travel through the stones! Will Brianna follow her mother across time to meet the father she never knew? Well, what do you think? Finally, (much to everyone's relief, I'm sure) 'The Fiery Cross', only available at the moment in that oversized paperback style, is the fifth book in
the series. By this time, Jamie, Claire, and assorted family members are in America, about five years prior to the American Revolution! It's interesting to note that 'The Fiery Cross' is approximately twice the size of 'Cross Stitch' and is almost as absorbing! . Due to the recent release of 'The Fiery Cross', I'm not going to spill anything more about the plot just yet! For those of you who have enjoyed this series as much as I have - fear not! Diana Gabaldon has recently announced that there will almost certainly be another two books in the series, arriving on our shelves over the next few years. This series is incredibly well-written, with characters so real that you find yourself looking nervously around a dark room for Black Jack Randall, wondering if Claire's herbal remedies actually work, or puzzling over what would really have happened if Claire had accidentally killed her husband's ancestor? The books are impeccably researched, a fact made even more impressive by the revelation that Ms Gabaldon didn't actually visit Scotland until after the first book in the series was accepted by a publisher! There is so much more praise I could heap onto this series, but if you're not connecting to Amazon to hunt down 'Cross Stitch' already, then there may be nothing more I can say to convince you. Let me just finish by saying that if you're looking for a story with a difference, look no further. A series that combines time-travel, romance, history, and several excellent plot-twists; - what more could you possibly ask for?
Yes, this book is indeed the best book I've ever read - and I have read Tolstoy's 'War and Peace', studied Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Albert Camus and Charles Dickens. You may think it is rather cheeky of me to compare what might be considered a popular modern-day author with such famous, long-dead classic writers - but Diana Gabaldon deserves to be spoken of in the same breath. Outlander (known as 'Cross Stitch' in the UK) is a huge book, over a thousand pages and at first, it looks quite daunting. But a few hundred pages in, you will be wishing it was longer and the magic could continue. You will therefore be pleased to hear the story continues in Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, with a new novel - Fiery Cross - due out in 2001. However, you don't have to read all the books, each novel can be read and understood by itself. Outlander is the story of Claire, who lives with her husband, Frank, in 1960s Scotland. One day, she explores the stone cirtcle at Craigh Na Dun and ends up being transported into a Scotland of some three centuries before. There, she meets the Jacobite hero, Jamie Fraser, who is the most real and vividly written fictional character I have encountered. This man has sex appeal !! If you are female, I can almost guarantee you will be in love with Jamie by the end of the novel ! The book has a bit of everything in it - gory battle scenes, romance, sex (but not too much and not of a gratuitous nature), violence, heroism, bravery and a huge array of wonderful characters that Gabaldon has breathed life into through her mastery of words. It is hard to place this novel into one particular category, as to say it is a romance is to put it with Jackie Collins or Jilly Cooper, but Gabaldon is a class above such authors. To describe it as an historical novel, which it also is, would isolate the readership who believes history is boring or all about kings an
d queens. I personally describe it as a time-travelling historical romance, but perhaps the best recommendation I can give it is in the title. I do suggest you try it and see what you think. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU COMPLETELY LOST YOUR HEART TO A BOOK? Well, look no further. Diana Gabaldon has created the ultimate escape in The Outlander. Don't let the 850 pages dissuade you. It's the fastest read you'll ever have. The epic tale begins when Claire Randall, a young combat nurse in World War II, moves to Scotland with her beloved husband to re-ignite their marriage interrupted by the war. Hiking one day, Claire accidentally passes through the stones of an ancient stone circle and wakes up to find herself in 16th century Scotland. Lost, alone, and confused (yet, determined), Claire's path crosses, and is inextricably linked to, a young Highland warrior, James Fraser. (The kind of man women want, and men want to BE.)The story that ensues would make Shakespeare proud--danger, suspense, passion, betrayal, true love, and tragedy. Gabaldon is a master story teller. She shrouds her fantasy in just enough reality as to completely seduce her readers. The time-travel element as well as the romance, while unconventional for a "serious" historical novel, are handled brilliantly by Gabaldon. Not, for the faint of heart-- the author tackles themes of a violent and sexual nature. However, the story is so realistic and beautifully told, it doesn't come off as a ploy to shock readers. Well-crafted and meticulously researched, The Outlander is historical fiction at it's finest-but never this much fun! The hero and heroine come alive. You'll find yourself living and breathing in their world, anxiously devouring each chapter. WARNING: have the next three books in the series handy. Once, you turn the last page of Outlander, you won't want to return to the 21st century. I couldn't get to the bookstore fast enough. And, Gabaldon does not disappoint...