Summary: Under the Wide and Starry Sky chronicles the unconventional love affair of Scottish literary giant Robert Louis Stevenson, author of classics including Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and American divorcee Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. They meet in rural France in 1875, when Fanny, having run away from her philandering husband back in California, takes refuge there with her children. Stevenson too is escaping from his life, running from family pressure to become a lawyer. And so begins a turbulent love affair that will last two decades and span the world.
Fanny van de Grift Osbourne Stevenson was a remarkable woman. In 1875, she left her cheating husband Sam Osbourne and took her three children with her to Antwerp to study art. It was during this stay that she met Stevenson. After they married, they traveled all over the world, looking for places in which Louis was healthy. Eventually they settled in Samoa.
Horan brings Fanny to life, revealing both the joys and frustrations of her marriage to Stevenson, who never supported her ambition to write: "How could Louis not know that creative energy so possessed her mind and body some days she thought she might go mad from it. That sometimes it took fourteen hours of grinding work before the forces inside her had been sated and she could lay herself down to rest." Still, she persisted and lived an extraordinary life -- for any time. Horan's novel does justice to a fascinating woman.
Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his Indiana-born wife, Fanny Osbourne. Extreme passion, sickness, and creativity abound. Well done on all fronts.
After reading Horan’s “Loving Frank” I wasn’t surprised to find this book was a full portrayal of a fascinating woman that was well researched. It’s truly Fanny’s story, in the same way “Loving Frank” was about the woman behind Frank Lloyd Wright. Fanny was a writer and artist before she ever met Stevenson.
Yet with all that being said, the book also offers a look into the author’s life. A few years ago I visited the Robert Louis Stevenson museum in California because I wanted to learn more about the man behind classics like “Treasure Island,” “Kidnapped,” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” I knew he struggled with a debilitating illness his entire life, but I never knew about his romance or the rich adventures he had despite his ailments. I was amazed by how easily they moved from one side of the world to another, Europe to California to Samoa, especially during a time when communication was so difficult. Each time the moved they embraced a completely new culture.
The mental illness at the end of the book felt like it came out of nowhere. All books like this are somewhat hemmed in by the facts and real timelines. Plotting is more difficult because real life doesn’t follow a story arch
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting book that provides insight into an incredibly talented writer. It’s not a perfect, but Horan has a skill for capturing the spirits of the strong women that are often trapped in their more famous partners’ shadows.
The story begins with its' focus on Fanny van de Grift and her early life. It tells of her life as a child, then her marriage and her eventual move to Paris, where she finally meets Robert Louis Stevenson. Then, she returns to the USA and the story begins to introduce the famous author, his friends, attitudes and travels. Eventually, Robert Louis Stevenson arrives in the states, where he manages to find Fanny once more. Along the way, the reader gets to see places and lifestyles hard to imagine in today’s world of computers, televisions, automobiles and instant gratification.
Be warned that this is not a fast, gripping read. That was okay with me. I thoroughly enjoyed Nancy Horan's careful attention to historical details, because she happened to choose the details that were most interesting to me. That doesn't always happen for me with historical fiction. So -- a mite slow moving, but very well written and often fascinating.
The marriage has many ups and downs as Louis continually battles poor health and Fanny spends much of her time as Louis' nurse keeping him alive while encouraging him to write even when he must spend long months in bed. The Stevensons move to many places trying to find the perfect environment for Louis and his damaged lungs. They finally end up in Samoa buying 300 acres of land they call Vailima where Louis begins to regain his health, and interestingly where Fanny begins to lose her own. She sinks into depression and madness and it is Louis turn to nurse her back to sanity.
The book was well balanced between telling the story of RLS and of Fanny's story as she struggles to keep Louis alive while trying to find her own worth in the world, separately from being the wife of a famous man. She battles with their early poverty, the loss of a son, and the estrangement of her daughter, Belle as she unerringly follows Louis to wherever he must go to keep his health and write even though she suffers in many of these places. My main criticism of the book is its laboring over the story of Louis' ill health and how it feels the author could have shortened the story considerably without losing anything essential. At times it was a struggle to finish the book.
1) Atmospheric - Time, place, and emotion are wonderfully recreated. As the Stevensons journey to Paris, Scotland, the American West, Hawaii, and Samoa, readers are offered a glimpse of everyday life in each locale in the late 1800's.
2)The Wikipedia Test - I feel that good historic fiction should leave a reader wanting to know more about the people, places, and events they read about. I looked up a good deal as I read, and I found a factual basis for events and facts I thought were too spectacular to be believed! RLS and Fanny were both prolific writers, so Horan had a wealth of information on which to draw for her research.
3)Believable characters - Likable, but not perfect, characters are neither too good or too bad to be believable. Horan has captured the complexity of this fascinating family and its strengths and weaknesses.
I highly recommend Under the Wide and Starry Sky for fans of historical fiction and English literature.
Apart from all this, Fanny and Louis Stevenson's lives simply make for a great story. They lived for years in a part of the world that most Europeans never saw, and they took the time to try and understand a culture that was different from their own in a way that often puzzled their own European and American friends. This book puts forth the story of a family living life on its own terms, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I have not yet read "Loving Frank," but after this read, it's high on my list. "Under the Wide and Starry Sky" is a perfect choice for lovers of historical fiction, British literature, or anyone looking for a well-written, engaging story with strong characters.
Under The Wide And Starry Skies is a historical novel about the life and love story of Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson. It was intriguing and informative, as I was unfamiliar with Stevenson's life. Nancy Horan does a wonderful job bringing humanity to this famous author as we learn about his health issues, his wife and their travels around the world in search of a life-saving climate. Watch for this book when it is published in January 2014!
First let me say that Horan is a very good writer far better than most bestseller novelists. I'm grateful for that as, after reading her second novel, I can say the mood/atmosphere of her stories is really depressing.
Unfortunately I'm not sure any novelist can do much about that.
Though I liked her first novel, I've come to realize that I was propelled through the story by my hatred of Frank Lloyd Wright and what the SOB would do next, so my interest was held to the very end. Not so with Starry Sky.
I gave up a little more than half way through. Robert Louis Stephenson medical problems were just too bleek and his wife and travels too uninteresting in Horan's hands to continue. Maybe I'll pick Starry Sky up again in the future, but for now I've had enough.
Stevenson is most known for his books, Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Other than that, I knew nothing about the author's life. This was a wonderful book to read and really understand the complex relationship between the two. Also, they led a life of adventure and travels all the while dominated by Stevenson's incurable disease that debilitates him for most of his life.
Fanny meets Louis (as he was often referred as) just as she is in Europe trying to recover after a tragic loss. Although she is still married, but estranged from her husband, her and Louis develop a love affair.
The book is a long one, and at times plods along a bit slowly, but I never wanted to not read it. The life of these two characters was quite amazing. They both traveled to far flung areas of the world at a time when traveling was treacherous and dangerous, especially on the open seas. I was impressed with the details of the story. I really got to know this famous author's life and how he lived it.
I received a copy for review as part of the Librarything Early Reviewers.
Although this is a long book, it never dragged or felt too long. The point of view went between Fanny and Louis, and the balance was just right to make the reader understand their difficult relationship. So much of his personal character went into his writing, and Nancy Horan really connects that for the reader.
I started this book hoping that it wouldn't be a let down since I enjoyed Loving Frank so much, but I was impressed again with this author. I highly recommended this one to lovers of historical fiction.