Rewriting the Script: Outlander/Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon

Cross StitchOutlander









Series: Outlander #1 | Genre: Romance/fantasy | This edition: Paperback (UK) | Publisher: Arrow Books | Publication date: March 4th 2002 | My rating: 4/5

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 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.

I’ve been giving this book a lot of thought since I finished it, and it’s proved to be one of those books that gets more interesting the more I think about it. It’s taken me this long to write this post, mostly due to Real Life but also due to the fact that with all of the thinking, I’ve come to realise that it’s a better book, and perhaps even more important, than I first believed…

Maybe it’s fairer to simply say that it grew on me, both before and after I finished it. Outlander (I know it wasn’t originally called this in the UK, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll stick with it) wasn’t without its problems for me – much of the first half felt annoyingly overburdened with too much minor detail at times, even while I appreciated the clarity of Gabaldon’s picture of life in the Scottish Highlands, in the time period Claire Beauchamp finds herself lost in. That said, it’s the bigger picture that’s really impressive, and what I’ll mostly be focusing on here.

A lot of that bigger picture is, of course, taken up by the relationship that forms between Claire (protagonist, WW2 nurse and narrator) and Jamie Fraser (Highlander, rebel, outrageously cheeky scamp). Diana Gabaldon has been held up as an example of how to write good romance, and I confess that this is why I picked up this book to begin with. I was looking for something to broaden my reading horizons with, and I’ve got to say that this book does the job wonderfully well.

This is no melodramatic bodice-ripper, though there is no shortage of drama, especially in the book’s second half, and it is certainly not afraid to get steamy. More than simply being steamy for the sake of it, though, it’s the lack of pretense, sometimes even the lack of, shall we say, understanding, between these two characters that makes their budding romance so interesting to read about.

‘No, tell me. What did you think?’
‘I’m no goin’ to tell ye; ye’ll laugh at me.’
‘I promise not to laugh. Tell me.’ He caressed my hair, smoothing the curls back from my ear.
‘Oh, all right. I didna realize that ye did it face to face. I thought ye must do it the back way, like horses, ye know.’ (P. 293)

Oh, Jamie. Bless you.

In all seriousness, though, we’ve all been there. The first time’s never perfect, usually somewhat embarrassing if we’re being honest, right? What Gabaldon gets right here isn’t the attractiveness of these scenes, though they do (mostly) have an undeniable charm about them – it’s how true to actual experience they are, especially in light of Jamie’s initially virginal status. Claire’s own status as a married woman, technically at least, also contributes to a lot of the awkwardness she feels, even while she’s undeniably attracted to Jamie – and rightly so. This isn’t easy on either of them, but by the end the love between them is unquestionable.

Therein lie many spoilers, but trust me – by the time I’d reached the book’s conclusion, I was thoroughly hooked on this relationship, and quite thoroughly emotionally invested. The twist here for me is that rather than getting teary-eyed over Claire’s hardships, it was Jamie who earned the deepest sympathies, the bitten nails, even a few curses out loud for what he goes through before the end. Again, that way lies spoilers and I won’t go too far into detail for the benefit of anyone who might not know the story yet – but this switch, from the old familar cliche of making the woman the victim to victimising the man, is an important one because… well, why couldn’t it happen?

It’s a dark turn the story takes at that point, and what really got to me here is that it happens because Jamie chooses to let it happen. It comes down to him or Claire, and he refuses to allow it to be her.


Not that Claire is any sort of helpless wilting flower by now. She can’t prevent what’s going to happen to him, but the lengths that she goes to in order to save her husband are what make the finale of this book so intense. If I had any doubts about her devotion left by that point, the scenes that follow her rescue of Jamie utterly wipe them away.

(Aside for fellow Outlander fans: the wolf. OMG.)

Yes, I am a fan. I was genuinely surprised – pleasantly so – to find what I found in this book. What I found was exactly the kind of epic romance, not to mention solidly fascinating historical fiction, that I’ve since come to realise I want more of. George R.R. Martin might be nailing down all the undeniably grim and ugly sides of humanity, but to be perfectly honest, he can keep them. I’d rather have more of this, please and thank you.

One last thing, though – I’ve read it cover to cover and I still don’t get what’s up with that UK title… Anyone?




9 thoughts on “Rewriting the Script: Outlander/Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon

  1. Hrm. Yeah, I thought about the context and all. Wasn’t enough to stop it bothering me. There was more that bugged me, but I won’t get into it here.

  2. Yep Tana, that was this book. Carol has it right, that it kind of requires a different mindset than a modern one to really be okay with it – it bothered me too, as did one of the later sex scenes, which is why this doesn’t have five stars. I ran out of word space to go into it, but if anyone wants to, feel free to email me. 😉

  3. Tana Lyman, you have it right–this is the _series_, anyway. I believe it was in the first book . . . don’t let that discourage you; think of that passage in the context of the 18th century. It was so much more dangerous for a woman alone than the 20th–where Claire came from–in spite of WWII. Read on, Ms. Lyman! It’s supremely worth it!!

  4. Hrm. Possibly I’ve mixed this book up with another one with a similar premise. Whatever it was I read had a scene where the supposed hero spanked the heroine like a child for doing something wrong … left a very bad taste in my mouth.

    Now I’m left wondering what book that was … ah well. Probably best left forgotten.

  5. P.S. Cross Stitch needlecraft is traditional in Scotland – I think it’s supposed to mean that Claire and Jamie’s timelines, or their fates, crossed and became entwined. Just a guess 🙂 I think it’s not a bad title, but Outlander is far more catchy and adventorous.

    1. Thanks! And that is a neat idea, now that I think about it. I did get a comment from Diana on Twitter saying it was some sort of translation thing here that would’ve changed the meaning of “Outlander”, but that she used Cross Stitch as her working title so the publisher kept that. So now we know!

  6. Thanks for the wonderful review! Actually, there are more differences between the US and UK edition than just the title – in the British edition, some sex scenes are left out/changed (especially my favorite one, after the raid on the rock), some names are changed and horses made into ponies, nobody is sure why. Diana Gabaldon has written some comments on the net about it, on her homepage and in reader forums. xxx

  7. Crossstitch – no idea! Very odd name. Outlander is so much more fitting.
    I read this a few years ago – at the time I picked it up I think there were already four released so that probably gives you an idea! Somebody brought it into work for me saying they thought I’d like it and I took it away with me on holiday. I went straight out after I’d finished and bought books 2 and 3. I loved this series. I did stop at (I think) No.6. Jamie is such an excellent character and Gabaldon brings such a lot to the stories.
    Will you continue with the others?
    Lynn 😀

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