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
*I received a free ARC of Under the Wide and Starry Night from Random House Publishing – Ballantine via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review*
Under the Wide and Starry Night is a beautiful love story, quite unconventional in many ways since Fanny is twelve years older than Louis, and when they meet in France, she is married but estranged from her husband. Both Louis and Fanny have lived pretty tough lives so far, and they both really need some peace and quiet, and someone to love them unconditionally.
From the opening, the reader is traveling along-side Fanny and her three children, first to Antwerp, then to Paris, and after a tragedy strikes she, Belle and Sammy go to the countryside in France. And the traveling continues, first in Europe, than Fanny ends up going back to California to see if there is anything she can do to save her marriage. Louis writes about every little thing he observes, and his first published book is an open love letter to Fanny. This publication helps him get the courage to go to America to try to win her back.
As the story progresses, what is the focal point of Under the Wide and Starry Night is, of course the writing, but a close second is both the travels and the human relationships, friends and those Louis and Fanny thought of as friends, as well as Louis returning illness. Written mostly from Fanny’s point of view, Under the Wide and Starry Night reads almost like a diary, even if there are also letters and poems included. And although most of it is from Fanny’s point of view, there are also passages from Louis point of view, too.
A very complex story, spanning over twenty years in the late 19th century, Under the Wide and Starry Night managed to transport me into the story and the characters, and I was enjoying both the travel and the intricate personal relationships. The sense of betrayal Louis felt when his best friends turned against him at the first show of big success is something that is such a big part of humanity, and it was very well described – through the feelings Louis showed, the letters he wrote in response and his inner thoughts about what was happening to his little group.
I also really enjoyed reading about the writing process that has a big part in Under the Wide and Starry Night, the way Louis had a great idea, and then would bounce it around with Fanny to make it sharper, and ready for the public. The growth of the characters, and the way Louis and Fanny’s relationship seemed so very real is what made Under the Wide and Starry Night such an enticing read. And I didn’t realize until quite far in that the characters are historical, even if the story is fiction – with a solid base in reality.
If you enjoy stories about travel, human condition, writing and the relationships that can make or break us, you should pick up Under the Wide and Starry Night and settle in for a slow moving story – kind of like a large river – where some paths cross and others disappear forever. The story is full of everything – feelings of joy and happiness, sorrow and despair, excitement in new places and new people, and of course, there is love.
Staring at the cottage that day, she knew she had to leave, for in staying, she felt as tawdry as the whore at the front door. The strain of Sam’s unfaithfulness brought low the whole tenor of life inside the walls of the cottage, even when he was gone. Fanny carried his dishonor like a sign on her back.
He threw back his head and let go a giddy laugh when the wine hit his tongue. Pure gladness coated his mouth, slid down through his chest, lit up his arms and legs. My god, how joyful a picture the dining room made.
Fanny looked up through a circular opening in the arbor at the black sky, awash in stars. She considered the idea of staying right where she was, of sleeping in the hammock as to breathe in the fragrance of the trellis roses.
Her silence simply confirmed what he’d knows for some time. My mother is my father’s wife. And the children of lovers are orphans.
Louis looked toward the open door to her bedroom. “What is it you have in mind, sir?” she teased. “You,” he said gently. “us.” He withheld what was next on his tongue. French acrobatics.