Wednesday, February 5, 2014

G247 Book Review of Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

Name of Book: Under the Wide and Starry Sky

Author: Nancy Horan

ISBN: 978-0-345-51653-4

Publisher: Ballantine

Type of book: History, 1875-1894, Scotland, life after marriage, creativity, writing, islands and natives, England, France, friendship, encouragement, sickness, biography of sorts

Year it was published: 2014


The passionate and turbulent story of Robert Louis Stevenson and his tempestuous American wife, Fanny.

At the age of thirty-five, Fanny van de Grift Osbourne leaves her philandering husband in San Francisco and sets sail for Belgium to study art, with her three children and a nanny in tow. Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her brood repair to a quiet artists' colony in France where she can recuperate. There she meets Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who is instantly smitten with the earthy, independent and opinionated belle Americaine.

A woman ahead of her time, Fanny does not immediately take to the young lawyer who longs to devote his life to literature, and who would eventually write such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In time, though, she succumbs to Stevenson's charms. The two begin a fierce love affair, marked by intense joy and harrowing darkness, which spans decades as they travel the world for the sake of his health. Eventually they settled in Samoa, where Robert Louis Stevenson is buried underneath the epitaph:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

(Requiem, Robert Louis Stevenson)


The main characters would be Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson. Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson is best described as devoted to her family as well as her former husband. She is also a martyred character, the one that gave up her talents to be creative and is also incredibly determined when it comes to Robert Louis Stevenson. She is also serious and very loving. Robert Louis Stevenson is best described as confident, sort of a mercurial personality, clueless when it comes to his wife and optimistic as well as determined and he tries his best to expose the darker side of living on the islands despite everyone's advice.


Take chances when it comes to life


The book is written in third person narrative from Robert's and Fanny's points of view, although I think Fanny dominates the most of it. While I understood most of it, towards the end I think I found it confusing, and I didn't understand the purpose of an epilogue that's ten years later. I also kind of hoped I could see more of life from Fanny's kids point of views. The book has encouraged me to try to read some more of Robert Louis Stevenson books, and I also liked the whole elder female/younger male relationship. I think I was also reminded a bit of James Michener's novel, Hawaii in particular.  Something else that the readers will appreciate is that the book isn't a courtship novel, that is 90 percent of the novel is about the married life and some of the things Fanny had to battle with when it came to Louis.

Author Information:
(From TLC)

Nancy Horan is the author of Loving Frank. She is also a journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications. She has two sons, and lives with her husband on an island in Puget Sound.
To learn more about Nancy and her work, visit her website,


Probably like other readers and reviewers I didn't know anything at all about Robert Louis Stevenson. The only thing I read by him was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde back in high school for an assignment and beyond that nothing else. First I have to admit that although I understand where the title comes from, in early days of reading it I often wondered if it was about Van Gogh (His painting Starry Night in particular,) and I had no idea how or why it related to him. However reading about his life with Fanny really inspired me to see if I can read more of his works beyond Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Also both Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson, or Louis Stevenson as he is known are amazing characters and they must have been amazing people when they were alive. Although I don't know much too much about 1800s especially in Europe, I can tell that Nancy Horan has done her research into bringing into life an amazing character that one really wants to get to know as well as become more familiar with his works. There are parts that I felt were a little too long and I think I really wanted to see more intimate scenes between Fanny and Louis; I guess the author is struggling with balance of sorts between Fanny/Louis versus larger picture of Europe. Some parts of it reminded me of reading Sonya Tolstoy's diary, at least a little bit; that of a woman giving up everything about her to help support her husband's literary pursuit (although Louis is much more of a sweetheart than Leo Tolstoy.)

This is for TLC Book Tour

Nancy Horan’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, February 3rd:  Books Without Any Pictures
Tuesday, February 4th:  Book Drunkard
Wednesday, February 5th:  Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Thursday, February 6th:  Col Reads
Friday, February 7th:  No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, February 10th:  Luxury Reading
Monday, February 10th:  Julz Reads
Tuesday, February 11th:  Knowing the Difference
Wednesday, February 12th:  Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, February 12th:  Bibliophilia, Please
Thursday, February 13th:  River City Reading
Friday, February 14th:  Literally Jen
Monday, February 17th:  Unabridged Chick
Monday, February 17th:  Man of La Book
Tuesday, February 18th:  Lavish Bookshelf
Wednesday, February 19th:  Read. Write. Repeat.
Wednesday, February 19th:  A Novel Review
Thursday, February 20th:  BookNAround
Friday, February 21st:  Read Lately
Monday, February 24th:  Joyfully Retired
Tuesday, February 25th:  Lit and Life
Wednesday, February 26th:  Books and Movies
Thursday, February 27th:  A Bookish Affair
Friday, February 28th:  Ageless Pages Reviews
4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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