Luckily my number of blog readers tally on one hand so there's little chance of upsetting anyone with what I'm about to say; Cross Stitch otherwise known as Outlander by Diana Gabaldon got me so angry I wanted to ram a felt tip pen up my left nostril and stir it around a little. But only after thoughts of tearing up my copy, bringing it in to work, shredding the torn fragments, taking the mess to the beach, setting fire to it in a big metal drum and dancing around the flames. There! Ha! No offence to this author's legion of fans.
Two names, same story
Before anyone starts backing away slowly, I'm not an easily offended prissy person and Gabaldon is not a bad writer. Bloody pus-filled violence and mayhem? Whatever. Sex of every mathematical combination of orifices and protrusions? Bored now. It's not even the graphic sexual violence which flipped my switch and brought out the Mr Hyde hatred.
If that's husband2 on the cover, he's a little hairy
The heroine of the story Claire is a vivacious, independent and opinionated WWII nurse holidaying in Scotland with husband1 when she accidentally travels back in time 200 years. There in the Scottish highlands she uses her modern medical knowledge to stay safely useful, goes through an arranged marriage to husband2, lots of explicitly described sex and other adventures. The faint of heart might fluster at her short memory of husband1 but time travel trumps bigamy anywhere.
This book got a 4.5 star rating from amazon.com. I felt duped. By mid point I was bored enough to stop, but I'd already taken 400 pages to get there. The dilemma was won by the lack of alternative reading material and a 3 hour commute on public transport. What the hell, reading on can't hurt, it's only a book right? I was so wrong. A few pages later I was practically hyperventilating and wanted to throw the paperback tome across the carriage. Instead I settled for crumpling up the bookmark in my tight knuckly fist and chucking a self-righteous public tanty. Grrr!
I understand it's Scotland 200 years ago. I understand that women had no rights. I accept that husbands might have beat their wives if they weren't slavishly obedient, and some of the bastards may have enjoyed doing it too. So when he half-smothers her, holds her down for a beating with a leather belt the whole night it was no shock. But then the 20th century time traveller wife began believing she deserved it the day after the bruising belting and of course...rushed into the next steamy sex scene! Did he beat the self-respect out of her too?
"Gee, that touched a nerve" you're thinking.
Touched a nerve? Damn straight it did.
Husband2 may not know better, but the protagonist should. Up until then she was a tough nut and this "My bad, I deserved it" drivel was utterly inconsistent with the past character development. I felt betrayed and manipulated, having hitched a ride on Claire's back and starting to feel comfortable slumming it vicariously through the feisty outspoken heroine. You can't say it's just a book, we read novels to get under the main character's skin, we're supposed to relate to her. Isn't she meant to learn and grow so we can experience it by proxy? This subjugation was no sweat for her but her reasons for believing she deserved it were totally unconvincing. My brain wanted to throw up what it'd taken in. She doesn't even have the temper to withhold sex or give the silent treatment. The day after the brutality husband2 gives her some sob story about how he got dealt a hard life, and she fondly tells him "I love you" unprompted for the first time. Nothing squeezes the heart like a beating with a heavy belt.
But that's not all, there's plenty of other unhealthy side dishes in this meal. Graphic sadism, masochism, rape, sexual torture come in bite-size chunks. If you're a sexual or physical abuse victim Stay Away From This Book. What boggles my mind is how popular and highly reviewed this book is. I read somewhere Claire and husband2 were destined for 'great literary couple' status like Scarlett and Rhett or Romeo and Juliet. I might have vomited a little in my mouth. Why is wifebeating husband2 so popular and swoonworthy among the fans? He was so bland that until they got married I thought he was a support character. There's too much sex and too few obstacles for any effective sexual tension or chemistry.
So... continue the novel while shoving a pencil up my nose and sticking a knife in my ear, or just stop reading? The other alternative was to persuade myself that after the beating she actually went mad so there's no rational explanation for her behaviour. But then realised I didn't care enough, and had better things to do.