Every once in a while I write a grumpy, rant-y post, and apparently they can be rather amusing. And every once in a while I promise/threaten to write a review of Cross Stitch/Outlander, and now that I am doing so, I can definitely promise you it WILL be grumpy and rant-y, and possibly rather amusing, though (spoiler alert) the book is SO BAD, and so (more spoilers) rape-y that it really isn’t very amusing. More creepy, gross and horrifying.
So, yeah, SPOILER ALERT. This post will spoil all major plot points. And some minor ones. And possibly your ability to enjoy the book and TV show ever again, if you ever managed to in the first place.
First, a confession: I didn’t actually finish the book. It was that bad. In fact, it was so bad, that not only did I not finish it, but I THREW IT AWAY. In the rubbish. I’m generally a mad collector and save-er of books, and would never condone throwing out a book. The only other book I have ever trashed was one written in 1930s Zimbabwe that was full of the kind of racism that South Africa used to ‘justify’ apartheid a few years later, plus, the ‘hero’ raped his neighbour’s wife when he found out his wife was cheating on him with his neighbour, and the author thought that was a totally justified move. So that’s my standard for sending a book to the dump. So keep in mind I’m reviewing something I couldn’t even finish.
And, obviously, I haven’t watched the TV show. I’ve been told it’s better (“Oh, she’s not nearly as dumb in the show, and she actually kinda has a personality” Me: “well, duh, they couldn’t find a cardboard cutout as dumb or personality-less as she is”)
Second, a warning: this post involves mild swearing, hints at less mild-swearing, and references to sex, violence, and total stupidity.
Right. So Cross Stitch (as the version I read was titled). It had been out for a decade when I started college, but everyone was reading it, and talking about it, and swooning over it. It never really appealed, and in any case, I’d just discovered Terry Pratchett, so I pretty much ignored it. But every once in a while throughout my adult life a group of women would bring it up, and be scandalised that I hadn’t (“Oh my gosh! How can you not have read it? It’s responsible for my whole sexual education. It was so groundbreaking. It’s how I learned women could want sex too!” Me: “Huh. I thought that’s what Lady Chatterley’s Lover was for”). So when I saw a copy in an op-shop I thought it was time I rectified that gap in my cultural awareness.
I used to believe you should read and watch things that were major cultural phenomena, just to understand what the world was into. That’s why I read Twilight. That’s why I read Cross Stitch. Twilight was bad, but I could deal with it. Let me tell you, Cross Stitch cured me of any future obligations to read or do things because everyone has.
OK, so what’s so bad about this book?
The book is a ‘romance’ between 1940s nurse Blank-Brain (seriously, she has so little personality and characterisation, that I can’t even remember her name, plus, NO discernible intelligence or logic, so BB it is), who is married to a perfectly nice guy in 1940’s Britain, and 18thc Scottish guy Asshole Captain Carrot in a Kilt (his name is Jaime, a fact I only remember because Scottish guy in Dr Who is also Jamie.) Like Captain Carrot he is red headed, way taller than everyone around him, into a slightly weird lady from foreign parts with some unusual talents, extremely charismatic, potentially a heir to all sorts of stuff, but unlike Captain Carrot, most definitely an asshole. Also, when I think of the whole ‘romance’ ACCK! seems like the proper response.
BB falls through a gap in time back to 1740s Scotland, is forced to marry ACCK to keep from being tortured/raped/killed (this is going to be a recurring theme here), and falls in love with him.
That’s not love.
Umm…if you suddenly get thrust into a completely foreign time-period, the very first person you meet is a vicious psychopath who tries to rape you (and, coincidentally, looks exactly like your perfectly nice husband), are ‘rescued’ from him but also literally kidnapped by a group of men who haul you off across the country, survive a few more attempted rapes, and a torture session, and are then forced to marry and have sex with one of the few guys who hasn’t actively tortured you, sexually harassed you or tried to rape you (yet – more on that in a bit), what you feel towards him isn’t love, it’s STOCKHOLM SYNDROME.
ACCK, as his name implies, is an asshole. He’s abusive, controlling, and a rapist.
Blank-Brain first says she loves him shortly after he beats her. The book sets it up as ‘she disobeyed him, putting everyone in danger, and if he didn’t beat her to punish her, none of the other men would forgive her for putting them in danger’, which may have passed muster in 18th c Scotland, but this is being read by modern women (and, judging by the ones I’ve encountered, huge amounts of teenage girls, who are using it as a template for their relationships), and that’s downright creepy.
Oh, the rape thing? Doesn’t matter if you are married, if she says no, and he does it anyway, it’s rape. The author writing it as ‘once she stopped screaming she got into it and then it was wonderful’ just makes it worse. That is a HORRIBLE, REVOLTING, DISGUSTING message to give young women. I’ve heard the TV show called ‘the feminist answer to Game of Thrones’, but let me tell you, there is NOTHING feminist about the book. I am horrified that people could think that the relationship is an acceptable, admirable template for a relationship, and swoon over ACCK.
(If you’re wondering, I’m talking about the scene with the wedding ring, where Blank-Brain, typically, acts completely dumb and irrational, and totally makes me want to smack her (which is, of course, entirely different to ACCK smacking her, and in no-way justifies the rape)).
ACCK is such an asshole that when he meets his sister, who he hasn’t seen in 4 years, and who, the last time he saw her, was about to be raped and possibly killed by psychopathic-rapist-who-looks-like-BBs-husband, is, instead of being delighted that she is alive and OK, horrified – because she has two kids. He berates her for carrying psychopath’s child and calls her a whore. Multiple times. Amongst other terms. Even when she tries to correct him. Doesn’t even bother to do the maths (spoiler, not psychopath’s kids) or ask her or be glad she’s alive and not a total emotional wreck.*
Speaking of Blank-Brain acting dumb and irrational, that is her entire personality. In fact, half the major plot-points in the book happen because Blank-Brain gets told/asked not to do something that is transparently dumb, gets left alone for 3 seconds/half an hour/a few days, and DOES THE EXACT THING THAT THE PERSON WHO IS NATIVE TO THE TIMEPERIOD AND HAS SOME KNOW-HOW ASKED HER NOT TO DO. And then she almost gets raped/tortured/killed and has to be rescued.
ACCK: Hey, would you stay hidden hear for a minute while we meet someone dangerous? Remember, the land is full of dangerous people who want to rape/torture/kill you.
BB: Nah, I’m going to run away and try to make my way across the country with no supplies (gets kidnapped by people who want to rape/torture/kill her).
Crippled Lord with the power to protect or betray her: This is my son
BB: Oh, how sweet that you love him like a son even though he clearly isn’t yours because I’m a nurse and know that you are sterile because of your medical condition. You don’t mind me pointing out that your wife cheated on you and your heir is illegitimate, right? That’s totally going to end well? (gets kidnapped by people who want to rape/torture/kill her)
Him: I’m going off for a week, please don’t have anything to do with Witch-Woman
BB: Gosh, he’s been gone three days and I’m bored and I’ve got this not-remotely suspicious message from Witch-Woman, delivered by someone who hates me, I think I’ll go see what she wants. (gets thrown in a dungeon, accused of being a witch, almost burnt/drowned).
We’re told that BB does this crap because she’s independent and stubborn and fiesty and smart, but you can TELL us she’s smart all you want, the evidence is against it.
She is, in fact, so hopelessly dumb, devoid of any reason, and lacking in any shred of logic, that she makes Bella Swan look like an admirable heroine for young women. Seriously. Bella at least considers the situation she is in, thinks about the options, and makes decisions that are completely understandable for an intellegent but over-emotional 16 year old.
Blank-Brain, on the other hand, is so gormless I still can’t figure out how she survived WWII without getting herself killed by the nurses she blabbed on for having affairs, or the officer who had everyone find out he’d lost his important bits because she told the whole battalion, or someone in charge after she ran off to random parts for the 73rd time because she thought she could fix the whole war herself if she just trotted off to the Continent and threw rocks at the German Army (all of these are about the equivalent of her actions in the 18th c). I pity the matron whose ward she served on.
As if our ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ weren’t loathsome enough, there is a nasty little problem with the characterisations in the book. You see, two notable characters are gay. One of those is the big baddie, the rapist psychopath who looks just like Blank-Brains 20th c husband, and the other one is a pedophile.
Homophobia ain’t cool y’all.
If the characters weren’t bad enough, the book is full of the most cringe-worthy logical fallacies. Blank-Brain is a nurse, and, when she finally tells ACCK that she’s from the future, does so by listing all the horrible diseases (smallpox and whooping cough, for example) she can’t get because of future magic (vaccinations).
OK, so the smallpox vaccine works and is awesome, but whooping cough? She’s a nurse and should know that one has a very high failure rate, and wears off over time.
And she’s a nurse, so she should also know that there are still a TON of 18th c diseases she has no immunity to whatsoever. (me, reading this scene. “Oh, you can’t get smallpox? That’s nice. Ever heard of TB? Cholera? Typhus? Any remotely serious cut? Pregnancy? Or what about the plain old common cold?”)
To her credit, as the book is written Blank-Brain is immune to everything. What she lacks in brains she had in stamina. She spends a LOT of time cold, wet, terrified, getting bitten by bedbugs and eating a poor diet, and the worst she ever gets from it, after over half a year tramping around Scotland, often in poor garb, is a headache. Oh, and that’s after spending three days in a wet hold in the ground after she’s accused of being a witch. At the very least she should have gotten one good headcold!
Oh, the historical inaccuracies…so many historical inaccuracies…
Obviously the book is a fantasy, and is just meant to be a bit of fluff, but…
…some of the inaccuracies are so basic that I would have known they were off had I read the book in 1998, while I was still in high school, with only access to my high-school library and the Moloka’i Public Library (and, let me tell you, neither of these specialised in 18th c history).
First, the clothing. She shows up in 18th c Scotland in a mid-late 1940s rayon frock, and everyone thinks its a chemise. Really? Show me one 1940s rayon frock that could remotely be mistaken for an 18th c linen shift, and wouldn’t have zips and snaps and other bits that would immediately people think “Hmmm…what the heck is this?” She changes her clothes at one point, and they get taken away by a housekeeper. How dumb is the housekeeper to not look at the fabric and notions and go “Whaaa….?”
Also, it’s a bodice ripper. As in, bodices get ripped. Mostly hers. Now, it’s not actually easy to rip a lot of modern bodices, and 18th c ones are pretty darn sturdy. Ripping doesn’t happen!
Plus, she keeps showing up places with no clothes, and people give her full wardrobes. Clothing is a heck of a lot (as in, by a factor of a couple thousand percentages) cheaper now, but I’d still be slightly baffled/annoyed if someone showed up and needed a full wardrobe, especially if they destroyed it at the rate Blank Brain does.
Also, her wedding dress is described as having buttons down the back. Uh-uh.
Finally, for the inaccuracy that annoyed me the most, ACCK doesn’t know the F-word.
“OK”, you think “so it’s a fairly modern word and they didn’t have it in 18th c Scotland”.
Except that Robert Burns, writing 40 years later, used it…how shall I put this…ummmm…extensively (obviously that link contains coarse language).
It is 40 years later, but he does use it a LOT, but he was specifically collecting older phrases and works, and colloquialisms didn’t change quite as quickly in the 18th c. So either Burns’ poetry is the late 18th c equivalent of:
O gin a body meet a body,
Totes adorbs, but high:
Gin a body say to a body,
Bae, so on fleek! You’re fly!
Or a well educated 18th c Scotsman who had also travelled in Continental Europe should be expected to recognise the F word.
(and yes, I did know this about Burns’ writings in high school. Much to the mortification of my teachers, and delight of my peers, I discovered that our high school library had a Complete Works of Robert Burns, that was, indeed, complete, all nine inches and more. No one had borrowed it in decades, and it suddenly became extremely popular.)
Please don’t read this book. Please, please, please, don’t let young, impressionable people read this book. Please don’t look at the relationship shown in this book and think it is remotely healthy or OK.
*This, btw, was the point at which I lost it with the book, hurled it across the room (not for the first time), picked it up, walked outside, stuffed it in the rubbish bin, and never looked at it again. Shaming and abusing someone for the consequences of a rape is something I can’t be having with.