Under the Wide and Starry Sky


Title: Under the Wide and Starry Sky
Author: Nancy Horan
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: January 21, 2104
ISBN: 9780345516534
Number of Pages: 496
How I Got It: NetGalley

NetGalley Description:

The much-anticipated second novel by the author of Loving Frank, the beloved New York Timesbestseller, this new work tells the incredible story of the passionate, turbulent relationship between Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his wild-tempered American wife, Fanny.

In her masterful new novel, Nancy Horan has recreated a love story that is as unique, passionate, and overwhelmingly powerful as the one between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney depicted so memorably in Loving Frank. 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.
My Review:
This book took a very long time for me to read. I waffled at the beginning. I wasn't loving it but I wasn't ready to toss it to the wayside just yet. Then somewhere in the middle I was about to give up again. But then! *dramatic pause* I fell in love with the story. As in wistful, sighing, love. Looking back on the story in its entirety, I see why I started, stopped, sputtered, and about gave up. Horan's story (and my struggle with getting in stride with the story) is exemplary of marriage itself! Fanny van de Grift and Robert Louis Stevenson's paths cross, become messily entangled, and eventually merge into a loving marriage.

The story, spanning almost 30 years, begins in France, where Fanny is studying art with her children in tow, but her philandering and drunkard husband has been left behind in America. She befriends fellow artists and falls in sync with their bohemian lifestyle. Here she meets Robert Louis Stevenson (Louis) when he makes a grand entrance...through a window! Their eventual pairing is slowed by another love interest and the unfortunate fact that Fanny is indeed still married.

The cast of characters is vast but not overwhelming. The story includes multiple friends and family members and spans so many years that characters pop in and out and re-emerge with entirely new sets of circumstances.  Louis' health drives he and Fanny to destinations around the world from the coldest parts of Europe, to London, to New York, to Sydney and the South Seas. The entire second half of the novel takes place on islands full of natives, mostly on Samoa.

The story is full of intercontinental correspondence among the couple's literary circle, Louis' writing, Fanny's critiquing, and the daily ebbs and flows of family and marriage. The couple's interaction with each other and their interaction with others is the backbone of the story and quite admirable. Coming in at almost 500 pages it is impossible to give a synopsis that comes close to including everything touched upon in this story (Henry James, mining towns, death, mental and physical illnesses, sea voyages, accused plagurism, colonialism...)

I am not personally drawn to stories of romance that are all flowers and candlelight, or bodice rippers,  or aristocratic marriages. Instead, the story of Fanny and Louis' marriage is much more realistic and satisfying. I highlighted this book profusely and would like to re-read it someday (and I never say that!)

** I received this book in exchange for an honest review **

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