Friday, February 7, 2014
How to put into words how good this book is… Just like one of Robert Louis Stevenson's adventure books, Under The Wide And Starry Sky took me to far away places, let me live and breath the South Pacific, and let me peek into the door of the souls of Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny, two passionate individuals who did not want an ordinary life. This book was everything I had anticipated and so much more. It was an amazing love story, an adventure story, a story filled with passion, an artistic journey, a travel journal, a story filled with pain and tragedy, jealousy and unending love. It is one of the few books that I devoured the postscript, afterward and acknowledgements as well as the book itself. The research for this book, along with the keen writing abilities of Nancy Horan, makes this book so beautiful, so full of life. These are not 2 dimensional characters on the page, but living, breathing people, sharing their lives with the reader.
Under The Wide and Starry Sky is the love story between Robert Louis Stevenson, the author who gave us such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Fanny Van De Grift Osbourne, who flees the United States and her first husband to find artistic fulfillment in Belgium. The story develops in such a way that we experience both Louis and Fanny as individuals first. Fanny, full of artistic passion, running away from her philandering husband in America, young children in tow, first to Belgium and then to France. Tragedy follows Fanny to Europe, where she finally settles into a quiet life in France to recuperate. That quiet life erupts as the boarding house she settles in explodes with a colony of artists. This is where she meets the gregarious & passionate man named Robert Louis who falls madly in love with Fanny and wants desperately to be with her. Even though Fanny is 10 years his senior, Fanny succumbs to Louis' passionate, vivacious personality, but is that enough to sustain her and her young children? Torn between practicality and passion, the love story unfolds before your eyes in such an honest heartfelt way, that you are drawn in immediately to their lives and the passion between them. It is a passionate love story that will span decades and continents, and have you blindly turning those pages as you walk through the chapters of their lives.
Nancy Horan has done such a wonderful job of researching the lives of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, Fanny. And it's because of the wealth of correspondence, relationships and recorded adventures that this is possible. But making sense of it all, and shaping the story, their story, in such a way as to truly let the reader experience their lives is a remarkable talent. We are lucky that Nancy Horan possesses that talent, because the result is Under The Wide And Starry Sky, a love story, painted with the artists eye for beauty, that may have been lost in the pages of a dull biography just filled with places and dates in the hands of a lesser talent.
The Low Down… I was so wrapped up in the romance between Louis and Fanny. There were so many complications with Fanny being married for one, but also overcoming the prejudice of her being 10 years older. It was such an honest portrayal of a couple who loved each other through the test of time. But I also discovered a lot more about Robert Louis Stevenson than I had known before. I didn't realize he was a lawyer by education, or that he was so sickly throughout his childhood and adulthood. I never realized how much of an adventurer he really was, he really saw the world he wrote about. And the author really gives you the feel for an artist passionate about his art. I would say if you enjoy love stories, historical fiction, and if you are a reader and want to learn more about Robert Louis Stevenson's life, read this book! I learned so much. Though this is a work of fiction, there is so much truth behind the words. You will not be disappointed. Wonderful writing, and equally wonderful story.