Under the Wide and Starry Sky

Nancy Horan is a fantastic writer. Her first book Loving Frank was a huge hit and rightly so. If you haven’t read it, put it on your list. And while you’re at it, add Under the Wide and Starry Sky, her much anticipated new novel about Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife Fanny. I have to admit right off that I knew very little about Stevenson – I never read Kidnapped, Treasure Island or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I didn’t even know he was Scottish. Fanny Van De Grift Osborne leaves her philandering husband and, with 3 children in tow, flees to Belgium to study art. After a terrible tragedy, they retreat to an artists’ colony in France where they can recuperate. It is there that she meets Stevenson. I found it a bit confusing to sort out who was who at the beginning because she meets Bob Stevenson, Louis’ cousin, before Louis. I immediately think he’s THE Stevenson. Why wouldn’t I… Robert being Bob. But no, Louis eventually shows up to join the party of artists and he is THE Robert Louis Stevenson who eventually wins the heart and soul of Fanny. And what a life they end up having! One under current that is always bubbling to the top is Louis’ health. He suffers from terrible, life-threatening, lung problems and they seem to be constantly searching for just the right place on the globe where he can regain his health and work on his writing. And work he does. Sometimes for days and nights on end, like a mad man, while the rest of the family pussy-foot around his creativity, hoping that this will be the big one, the book that will finally put him on the map as one of the great writers of our time. It is fascinating, and unbelievable at times. So rich in detail. I can’t imagine sifting through all the research material Horan needed to put this amazing book together. Kudos to her stamina and creativity! But I already knew she was a great writer. Now I’m wondering who she will focus on next…

Leave a Comment