Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Voyager (Outlander #3) by Diana Gabaldon

 Trigger warning for sexual abuse, child abuse and rape.

When last we left Claire and Jamie, the battle of Culloden was about to begin and fearing for the safety of Claire and the child Jamie encourages Claire to pass through the stones for a second time. It will be twenty years before the two star crossed lovers see each other again and of course, the path of true love most certainly cannot run smoothly.

I don't even know where to being with this review because having read Dragonfly in Amber, I sincerely thought this series couldn't get in any worse but more fool me. The Outlander series has always necessitated suspending belief, otherwise the very premise - a woman traveling through the stones and ending up 200 years in the past would be a non starter.  There is only so far an author can ask a reader to do this and Gabaldon moves well beyond this point with Voyager.  Too many improbable incidents happen throughout the novel which of course, Jamie and Claire just magically manage to escape from, along with far too many ridiculous interactions with characters from the past. The number of coincidences and repeat meetings are outright ridiculous: 
  • Jamie and Claire just happen to run into a minister who is a serial killer of prostitutes 
  • Claire gets shipwrecked and just happens to run into a scientist Jamie met in Scotland. 
  • Jamie marries the woman who tried to have Claire killed
  • Geillies Duncan isn't really dead and shows up long enough to be evil and inspire a slave rebellion
  • Lord Grey who is still in love with Jamie, first works as the warden of the prison Jamie is kept in and then just happens to be posted to Jamaica, as governor, at the moment that Claire and Jamie really need official help.
  • The hurricane which sinks the man-o-war which is chasing Jamie and Claire's boat and just happens to carry them 600 miles across the ocean to America
  I could have taken the journey had any of these leaps made any kind of logical sense but it all came down to believe this shite because Gabaldon wrote it.

One of the things I learned reading Voyager, is that one of the worst things a woman can do as she ages is get fat.  The requirement of thinness of course makes Claire (oh she of the perfect, ever so white skin) stand out and in case you are in any doubt at all, Jamie makes sure to tell Claire so repeatedly.  A little thing like medicine and the proper nutrition of the twentieth century didn't give Claire the advantage did it? Women pale in Claire's shadow and most certainly, Laoghaire and Geillis Duncan.

First, it's worth mentioning that the fact that Jamie just happened to marry Laoghaire, who tried to have Claire murdered, is ridiculous but I suppose that Gabaldon felt that all ties with Scotland had to be neatly bound.  Did anyone even care about this character to begin with?  It's perfectly understandable that Jamie would try to move on with his life after Claire left and so I fail to understand why he wouldn't just tell her about his marriage, rather than have Claire, find out by having Laoghaire burst into their bedroom.  Did this story really need more angst and drama?  From the beginning, Laoghaire didn't hold a candle to Claire but this had to be reasserted for some reason.  Then we have Geillies, who we were lead to believe had died.  Her reappearance comes down to a lack of imagination.  Did Gabaldon think that readers simply couldn't handle a new character as evil. Of course, the once bonnie Geillies is now hideously fat and unhealthy, with her size increasing in direct proportion to the evil that she does.  Gabaldon is none to subtle with her fat hatred here.

We also know that Geillies is evil because she is a rapist.  For some reason, Gabaldon seems absolutely fascinated with rape and so far, each of the books in the series has either had a rape scene or very much implied it.  In this case, Geillies has young boys kidnapped and then she drugs them and rapes them.  We do have a scene in which Young Ian talks about how his body reacted to the sexual stimulation, though he didn't want to be touched.  It was good to have Jamie empathising with Ian, having been through this situation himself but it still begs the question of why  Gabaldon felt the need to include the rape in the first place?  It's as though a story for her isn't complete unless it includes some gratuitous rape.

Geillies isn't even the only rapist in this novel.  Yes, that's right, our favourite red headed Scotsman after being blackmailed into taking Geneva's virginity, ends up raping her.
Stop it! It’s too big! Take it out!” Panicked, Geneva thrashed beneath him. Pressed beneath his chest, her breasts wobbled and rubbed, so that his own nipples leapt erect in pinpoints of abrupt sensation.

Her struggles were accomplishing by force what he had tried to do with gentleness. Half-dazed, he fought to keep her under him, while groping madly for something to say to calm her.

“But—” he said.

“Stop it!”


“Take it out!” she screamed.

He clapped one hand over her mouth and said the only coherent thing he could think of.
“No,” he said definitely, and shoved.

What might have been a scream emerged through his fingers as a strangled “Eep!” Geneva’s eyes were huge and round, but dry.

In for a penny, in for a pound. The saying drifted absurdly through his head, leaving nothing in its wake but a jumble of incoherent alarms and a marked feeling of terrible urgency down beween them. There was precisely one thing he was capable of doing at this point, and he did it, his body ruthlessly usurping control as it moved into the rhythm of its inexorable pagan joy.

It took no more than a few thrusts before the wave came down upon him, churning down the length of his spine and erupting like a breaker striking rocks, sweeping away the last shreds of conscious thought that clung, barnacle-like, to the remnants of his mind.

He came to himself a moment later, lying on his side with the sound of his own heartbeat loud and slow in his ears. He cracked one eyelid, and saw the shimmer of pink skin in lamplight.  He must see if he'd hurt her much, but God, not just this minute. He shut his eye again and merely breathed.  (page 205)
Isn't Jamie just the most amazing romantic lead?  It seems that if a woman allows, or even encourages, a man to get to a certain point that her right to say no is summarily revoked. After being raped, does Geneva cry, or even try to get away? Nope, she apologises to Jamie believing that the grimace he made during orgasm indicated that he was hurt by raping her. Deciding that her rape wasn't all that bad, Geneva then initiates sex with Jamie.  Not only is this another gratuitous rape scene, it's not acknowledged as such because the rapist is Jamie, the perfect Scot.

Until Voyager I had the relief of complete erasure of people of colour.  It was the one thing to be thankful for  in this series and unfortunately, Gabaldon decided to offer some inclusion in this third installment.  As you might well imagine, the characterisation was hideous and extremely racist.  We are introduced to Mr.Willougby, who is literally referred to as Jamie's pet Chinese or The Chinese respectively.  Being from China, Mr. Willougby is of course a yellow heathen who is a danger to all White women because of his sexual deviance - yes a foot fetish. 
Say this was a lassie’s foot, Sassenach,” he said, stretching his right hand out flat before him. “Curl the toes under to touch the heel, and what have ye in the middle?” He curled his fingers loosely into a fist in illustration.

“What?” I said, bewildered. Jamie extended the middle finger of his left hand, and thrust it abruptly through the center of his fist in an unmistakably graphic gesture.

“A hole,” he said succinctly.

“You’re kidding! That’s why they do it?”

His forehead furrowed slightly, then relaxed. “Oh, am I jesting? By no means, Sassenach. He says”—he nodded delicately at Mr. Willoughby—“that it’s a most remarkable sensation. To a man.”
“Why, that perverted little beast!”

Jamie laughed at my indignation.

“Aye, well, that’s about what the crew thinks, too. Of course, he canna get quite the same effect wi’ a European woman, but I gather he…tries, now and then.”

I began to understand the general feeling of hostility toward the little Chinese. (page 633)
"The Little Chinese" actually has a name - Yi Tien Cho but none of the character use it because it apparently sounds to close to something rude in Gaelic.  Just about every nasty racist stereotype you can think of regarding Asian men is included in this novel.  Gabaldon doesn't end her racist characterisations there though.  We have Joe, Claire's BFF and they of course bond over issues raising their young children. Bree, Jamie and Claire's daughter has a tendency to be stubborn and Joe's son has the audacity to be curious about his roots, have pride in his race and refuse the name given to his family by their slave masters.  The obvious connections between the two are astounding (yes snark)  In one of Gabaldon's mysterious occurrences, Claire just happens to run into Joe's ancestor, who looks nothing like him, because of course the ancestor is really Black, not a watered down version like Joe and most certainly "black as the ace of spades." 
Glancing covertly around the circle of faces, I was struck by their strangeness.  These were the faces of Africa, and alien to me; not faces like Joe's that bore only the faint stamp of his ancestors, diluted by centuries of European blood.  Black or not, Joe Abernathy was a great deal ore like me than these people - different to the marrow of their bones.  (pg 921)
And being different, they (read: African slaves) of course have to have a voodoo ritual which includes the killing of a crocodile, along with consuming its blood and a hallucinogenic, while they dance around the fire.  And the point of all of this nonsense?  Claire got to have a small conversation with Bree and hear her daughter tell her that she loves her.  Say awww everyone, it only took some vile racist stereotyping to make it happen.

In previous novels,  all of the GLBT characters were the antagonists but in Voyager, we got a reprieve from that. Voyager brought the return of Lord Grey, who of course fell head over heels in love with Jamie, as all gay men  must naturally do.  In comparison to the large Scots, Grey is decidedly effeminate. "He’s fair-haired, wi’ long yellow locks tied up wi’ blue ribbon. And big eyes and long lashes, too, like a lassie’s.”  Grey uses all of his influence to ensure that Jamie is not transported like the other Scots to America and then even agrees to stand as a step father to Jamie's illegitimate son.  Lest you think that this is a selfless act, the fostering of the child allows him to always be close to at least a part of Jamie. This is Grey's reward for not taking up Jamie's offer of sex in exchange for watching the boy.

Not only does Grey love Jamie, he of course absolutely hates Claire and is incredibly jealous of her marriage to Jamie. 
"Do you know," he said again, softly, addressing his hands, "what it is to love someone, and never - never! - be able to give them peace, or joy, or happiness?"

He looked up then, eyes filled with pain.  "To know that you cannot give them happiness, not through any fault of yours or theirs, but only because you were not born the right person for them?" (page 861)
What the hell does the above passage even mean?  If Grey had been born straight, he would have had no interest in Jamie to begin with.  This passage rather reads as though Grey wishes that he had been born a woman, merely to have the possibility of a romantic relationship with Jamie.   Naturally, Claire identifies with this, having had a terrible twenty years with Frank. Yes, I am calling homophobic bullshit on this tripe.

Grey is yet another trope.  He is the gay man pinning away for a straight man, after of course losing his lover.  Grey then becomes the classic gay uncle, only to hold onto a piece of Jamie.  The worst part about all of this is that Grey is actually an improvement, as far as GLBT representation in this series goes, as the other two characters are either pedophiles, rapists, or sadists.

Love in the form of child abuse also continued to be a part of this story.  Jamie, Claire and Young Ian return to home and Jenny and Ian are not happy with their prodigal son.  Ian asks, "D'ye want to explain yourself, or shall I just belt [the] hell out of ye now and save us both time?" This forces Jamie to point out that Ian has been through a terrible ordeal, allowing the boy to be temporarily spared a beating.  At one point, Ian acknowledges that "I beat him 'ti he could barely stand, let alone sit, the last time he ran off," before admitting that a thrashing never stopped him as a child from doing exactly what he wanted to do.  All of these admissions of abuse are said rather casually and though Claire, who is a doctor from the 20th century and must surely recognize the problematic nature of this is present, she says not one word. In the end, Ian does not escape his punishment and is beaten quite unsurprisingly by Jamie.  Ian however shows his bravery by stripping down for the beating because "only girls are whipped wi' their skirts down," Young Ian explains.  "Men must take it bare-arsed."

Once again, I find myself wondering how it is that this series not only ended up on the N.Y. Times best seller list but got its own television show.  I know after reading some reviews on Goodreads that some people just ignore the obvious, sexism, gratuitous rape, racism and outright homophobia but the degree to which this happens is astounding.  There are few series which I have read that are as deeply and consistently offensive as Outlander.  I cannot think of a single positive thing to say about this book or this series at this point.