Next up: “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon
Okay… so, I have a lot to say about this book (very little of it good), and I’m not going to be able to avoid spoilers, so consider yourselves warned. I’m also probably not going to be able to avoid cursing.
After WWII, an English nurse (Claire) and her former-intelligence-officer husband go on a vacation in Scotland to reconnect after spending much of the war separated by their different duties. While on a walk one day, Claire touches a standing stone and falls through time to the same location 200 years earlier. Incidentally, this is now Scotland smack-dab in the middle of Jacobitism– Scotland vs. England. Bonny Prince Charles. Stabby-shooty-death-death. And Claire is just lucky enough to stumble on a skirmish minutes after time-travel-by-stone.
She falls into the company of some Scottish warriors, which protects her from an English officer who would hurt her, imprison her, and/or rape her. Unfortunately, she’s not sure she’s entirely safe with the Scots either. And though she’d like to find a way back to her original time, the Scots don’t really trust her and won’t let her leave their company. So Claire finds herself embroiled in the Jacobite uprisings, uncertain if she’ll ever return home, and irresistibly drawn to the handsome Scots warrior Jamie.
*Takes a deep breath* Okay. This is probably going to turn into a rant, but this book pushed a lot of my “ARGH NO” buttons. It has a fun premise– I mean, my love of time-travel stories cannot be quantified. It’s just… everything else.
First of all, Claire is waaaaay too blasé about finding herself suddenly in 1743. Especially since her introduction to the past comes along with getting caught in the literal crossfire of a fight and nearly getting raped by an English officer that looks like her husband. Any sane person would freak out. Claire just kinda… bulldozes around acting like nothing is different. She’s not the only one who just shrugs and goes ‘oh time travel okay’. At the end of the book, she tells her story to a monk (priest? whatever), who just accepts it. What even? How was she not branded as insane, or a witch (which happens in the book, to Claire and another character)?
Then we get into the whole romance deal. The beginning of the books shows Claire and her husband Frank rediscovering their love– having lots of sex, being affectionate with each other. Claire is understandably upset when she thinks that she might never see him again. She’s upset when, to help keep her protected from the English, she must marry Jamie. She’s distressed because she’s already married, and she wants to be faithful. And yet, after the wedding, she has sex with Jamie. Even after Jamie says that he won’t force her, she makes the decision to consummate the marriage with him. It was a sudden and completely unexplained about-face. Jesus, Claire, what about Frank? Weren’t you just agonizing over him? Being concerned about the legality of the marriage with regards to consummation is one thing, but she (and the narrative) never says anything about that being her reason, and even if it had been there would be no reason to keep doinking him for pity’s sake. I hate infidelity. I especially hate that Claire isn’t nearly so worried about Frank after this. Oh yeah, and the monk/priest at the end of the book? Beyond just accepting the fact of time travel, also manages to tell Claire that she’s totally not being unfaithful because technically she married Jamie before she married Frank. HOW CONVENIENT.
I also kind of hate that Claire and Jamie’s romance is billed as so wonderful and passionate etc etc when their relationship is hardly healthy. Even ignoring the base of infidelity that their relationship starts out with, he beats her. He uses his belt to hit her across the rear so hard/much that she can’t sit and can barely walk the next day. I don’t care if that was a common form of punishment in the 1700s, this story has freaking time travel; we could have handled the historical inconsistency of Jamie not being okay with beating his wife. Just because it was common back then does not make it okay. That is was only one time does not make it okay, either. And it’s not kinky unless it’s consensual. It definitely was not consensual; Claire was really upset with Jamie. At least until he persuades her that he was justified (he did it because Claire’s actions did not only endangered herself but also some Scots), which sounds a lot like abuse apologism to me. Even worse, it turned Jamie on. He later admits that, immediately after, he’d wanted to bang her. Ugh.
Not only that, but Jamie actual-facts rapes her. He wants to have sex. Claire says no, and means it. He does it anyway. That is rape. It doesn’t matter that it feels good to Claire. It doesn’t matter that they’re married, or in love. Spousal rape is a thing. She said no, he didn’t respect that. There is such thing as rape-play, but what differentiates them is consent. Claire was not playing by the same rules as Jamie. For her, no was no; but for him it wasn’t. Again, it’s not kinky unless it’s consensual. What really compounds my ire in this instance is that the same damn thing happens to Jamie (he doesn’t want to have sex but the villain of the story does, villain does it anyway, it actually kind of feels good to Jamie) and suddenly it’s a horrible thing. The difference, I guess, being that Jamie and Claire are in love so it’s totally okay. Or perhaps the homosexual angle makes it bad? Either excuse is B.S. to me.
Ah, and Claire’s treatment of Jamie’s PTSD after being tortured and raped. Her idea of treating him is to give him hallucinogenics and make him think it’s happening to him all over again. Oh my god. I’m not a psychologist/psychiatrist but I’m pretty sure that’s not how desensitization therapy works. For one thing, you don’t give someone psychoactive drugs and make them confront all of the trauma at once, and you especially don’t do it without their consent, what the ever-loving hell.
I could have liked this book. It would have been easy to write pretty much the same story, but without the points that made me want to set things on fire. To my mind, the book was entirely too concerned with the idea of adultery–any instance of sex outside of marriage was ‘bad’, Claire’s infidelity was pointedly excused– and completely rotten with consent problems. I found it impossible to reconcile Jamie and Claire’s supposed love for each other and the apparent lack of respect for each others’ persons and actions.
A lot of threats of rape and actual rape. Abuse. Torture.