Sunday, April 13, 2014

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

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)

Hardcover, 496 pages

Published January 21st 2014 by Ballantine Books (first published 2013) 
my copy provided by Edelweiss for my honest review
*** 1/2

Treasure Island is the only book that I have read by Stevenson, but I am intrigued now to rectify that. Now that I feel I know him a little better I am interested to read more of his works.

Though a little slow at times I did enjoy this book.  Told from the point of view of Franny there is a smattering of times we hear from Stevenson himself, I think it would have been nice to hear from his point of view a little more often, just to round out some of the situations.

There is a lot going on in this book.  Journeys from country to country, many a conflict and heartache. There are so many relationships and with that comes struggles, Franny and first husband (to divorce in 1875 was rare), Franny and her daughter Belle, her sons and family.  Stevenson, his family and friends also.  Along with Franny and Stevenson who were not immune to strife.

As much as I liked this book I wasn't able to feel much emotion or connection with Fanny or Stevenson like I wanted to. But I am glad that I read this book, it has given me a glimpse into the life of a talented author.
"Writers should find out where joy resides and give it a voice. Every bright word or picture is a piece of pleasure set afloat. The reader catches it, and he goes on his way rejoicing. It's the business of art to send him that way as often as possible.”

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