Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review of Nancy Horan's Under the Wide and Starry Sky (Fanny Van De Grift and Robert Louis Stevenson)

My review is based on a Netgalley electronic ARC.

This is a fictionalized imagining of what the relationship between Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife and soul mate, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Their lives together are well documented, and they both wrote extensively--obviously, RLS wrote all the time, and as many people of the time were often separated by distance and oceans, and often for life, they were both enthusiastic letter writers. Fanny also wrote some fiction, and she kept extensive diaries and journals, for her own personal reasons, as well as for Stevenson to refer to. 

Fanny meets Stevenson in the French countryside at a sort of summer artist's colony when she fled the US in an attempt to leave her philandering husband with her children to try to pursue a better life. RLS was instantly attracted to Fanny and her verve for life. Having been sickly all his life (tuberculosis), he was entranced by her strength and outgoing ways, especially for a woman of the time period.

This book documents their relationship and life together from day 1. While they loved being together, theirs was not a marriage without its troubles. Both struggled with periods of depression and artistic frustration. Fanny gave up a lot of the things she wanted to do to accompany RLS to various spa like sanatoriums in Europe and the US and Canada. When he was well enough to write, he did nothing but. Fanny managed the household, dealt with his menagerie of crazy friends, and put aside her own artistic pursuits to help him achieve success. 

The writing in this novel was lovely. Horan does not shy away from the tough issues that clouded the times and the life of the people we meet in this novel. From France and Belgium, to the US and finally to the South Seas, where he settled with his family on the Samoan island of Upolu. There was nice balance between the two main characters; I felt like I got to know both Fanny and RLS quite well. I think this book will be well received.

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