Cross Stitch, the first book of the Outlander series that has recently been made into an Amazon Prime TV show, has been on and off my wishlist for years. I’ll add it because it seems fun and interesting, but then remove it a few weeks later because it looks unecessarily long and it must have a Mills and Book-alike cover for a reason, right!?
My point is, I could have read this book years earlier. I hate that.
In 1945, Claire Randall is back from the war and reunited with her
husband on a second honeymoon in Scotland. Innocently she walks through a
stone circle in the Highlands, and finds herself in a violent skirmish
taking place in 1743. Suddenly she is a Sassenach, an outlander, in a
country torn by war and by clan feuds.
A wartime nurse,
Claire can deal with the bloody wounds that face her. But it is harder
to deal with the knowledge that she is in Jacobite Scotland and the
carnage of Culloden is looming. Marooned amid the passion and violence,
the superstition, the shifting allegiances and the fervent loyalties,
Claire is in danger from Jacobites and Redcoats – and from the shock of
her own desire for James Fraser, a gallant and courageous young Scots
warrior. Jamie shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that
Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire, and between
two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
Do you ever get that feeling where you know you’re going to fall in love with a book by the end of the very first page? On the face of it, the blurb doesn’t sound like my usual cup of tea at all. I mean, peri-wartime nurse gets transported to 1740s Scotland where she falls in love with a manly rebel… BUT SHE ALREADY HAS A HUSBAND!? No, thanks. I’ll be alright.
Except I don’t think I could possibly be alright if I never got to finish this series. There’s just something about the tone of the book that infers a touch of respectability to a plot that could turn very silly very quickly. There’s a pervading atmosphere throughout, whether Claire is on an isolated Scottish moor or in a bustling castle kitchen, it always seems so real. If I had to sum this book up in one word, it would be ‘immersive.’ Whenever I picked up this book, I instantly became part of the fictional world – it’s just that well-crafted.
Initially I was worried that this would go over my head as I know next to nothing about this period (or most others, to be fair) of Scottish history, but it takes the time to explain what’s happening without ever being condescending. To be fair, the rebellion and the Jacobite plots form more of a sub-plot than the main focus anyway.
There was one point in the story that actually made me literally gasp out loud. A plot twist that I’d never have seen coming and it just made absolute perfect sense. I had to put the book down and excitedly text Charlotte, just in case she’d somehow missed this gigantic revelation when she’d read the book herself. She hadn’t, naturally. But it’s just SO GOOD.
I quite liked Claire herself, and she did have the potential to annoy me rather a lot. I appreciated how she didn’t just immediately accept that she’d been transported to 1743 and merrily go on her way, like a lot of other protagonists in these books. It took her a while to come to terms with the implications of her new life and to actually believe what the hell was going on. That takes an awful lot more effort to write than “Oh cool, Scotland, you say!? Awesomesauce.”
The one thing that bothered me about Cross Stitch, and I’m not usually sensitive to this kind of thing, was Jamie’s treatment of Claire. Well, no. That’s not strictly true. I understand that, in the past, women were treated in a manner that we now see as barbaric, and it would be unreasonable to expect historical fiction authors to pretend it never happened. So I can deal with that. I wouldn’t say I enjoy it, but I accept it as probably not being too far from the truth.
What did bother me was Claire’s complete acceptance and self-justification of the beatings she received. She made a token objection at first and then managed to totally reason it out to herself, and it WASN’T because she was trying to hide her identity. I just feel that this isn’t in keeping with a World War II nurse somehow – you have a backbone in the rest of the book, where did you hide it then!?
It also doesn’t show a lot of consistency for Jamie’s character, which comes across throughout a lot of the novel. He’s sold as the gentle, educated Clansmen, to the point where we’re constantly told that he’s a 23 year old virgin because he’s never found the right woman. Fair enough. But then he’s actually quite horrible and possessive to Claire, over and above what you’d expect from a man from 1743 (because naturally I’m an expert in such things). I’m having trouble reconciling it as anything but an excuse to shove in some aggressive sex and spanking scenes. Speaking of which, NO MEANS NO, arsebag.
I should add that I can’t help but see him as the kilted pirate from Essgee Production’s version of The Pirates of Penzance. My mother and I know it intimately although it doesn’t do Jamie a lot of credit…
Cross Stitch is 880 pages long but I read the whole damn thing in a few days and I could happily have read more. It’s so immersive, even when Claire is just sat cleaning out medical supplies. It’s atmospheric and fascinating and… argh. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a backgroundy bit or an action bit, it’s equally engrossing. I feel like I need the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, quite desperately, so I’m sure you’ll be hearing from me soon. In the meantime, READ THIS.