Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Review: Under the Wide and Starry Sky

From Good Reads: 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.
My thoughts: This was my first experience reading Nancy Horan’s work. This novel covers many decades from the back story of Fanny van de Grit Osbourne to the tale of her life with Robert Louis Stevenson as they wandered from place to place in search of a place. I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s work in high school but never gave much thought (as with most classic authors) to his private life and the woman who helped drive and inspire him.

I was drawn to the character of Fanny, a woman who had very modern ideas and devoted herself to a life of beauty and art, despite some unfortunate circumstances. Her avant garde attitude was appealing and she settled right into the slightly bohemian lifestyle she chose to live after leaving her husband and comfortable life in San Francisco. While she sometimes felt overshadowed by her literary husband, she was absolutely devoted to him.

Robert Louis Stevenson was a dreamer who, against his family’s wishes, chose the life of a writer. Together with Fanny, they traveled, often times searching for the ideal climate for his ailing lungs. Fanny’s children are minor characters who drift in and out of the story. I feel like there could have been more development and interaction with them, given how much of the first pages of the novel are devoted to their story. At times the travels of Robert Louis and Fanny were a bit monotonous.

This novel is quite lengthy and honestly, sometimes lost my attention. I appreciated the story but still felt that at times, the book was just too long. I’m glad that I stuck with it, but overall thought the book was just ok. Historical fiction about the life of an author isn’t something I’m likely to return to again. If you ejoyed Horan’s first novel, Loving Frank, chances are you will enjoy Under the Wide and Starry Sky. If Robert Louis Stevenson’s book are something you absolutely love, then definitely check out this novel.

Disclaimer: I was provided with this book by TLC Book Tours and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thought and opinions in this post are my own.