Our readers loved learning about Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson in Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. It's a winner in the recent popular genre of books about the women behind famous men. 24 out of 25 BookBrowse readers gave it a rating of 4 or 5. Here are some reasons why this wild ride of a story is so successful:
Under the Wide and Starry Sky gives us insight into the life of Robert Louis Stevenson: his life long struggle with a fibroid lung disease, his dreams that resulted into his wonderful stories, his continuous struggle with finances, and his devotion to Fanny (Elizabeth K). Fanny Stevenson summarized her life as "a wild ride on the crest of a wave that rolls and never breaks." From France to the United States, Scotland, England, and the South Pacific, readers ride the crest of the wave that was Fanny and Louis Stevenson's loving, sometimes troubling relationship (Linda P). In addition to this very interesting tale of the Stevensons' life there are many ideas to ponder such as the meaning of home, the proper role for women, the nature of the artist, colonization of native lands, and the ingredients of a successful marriage (Shirley L). Besides conveying the adventurous lives and bigger-than-life personalities of the Stevensons with great gusto, this book is tender and moving. At the end, it leaves us almost as bereft as Fanny when, after living many more years of life than he ever expected, her beloved dies (Judy B).
Many readers knew Robert Louis Stevenson's novels, but didn't know the man behind the work. Under the Wide and Starry Sky remedied this:
A Child's Garden of Verses, Treasure Island, and Kidnapped were favorites from my childhood, but I knew nothing about the author aside from his nationality. Now thanks to Nancy Horan's wonderful new book that has been rectified (Sheila S). Under the Wide and Starry Sky was a surprise, not because it was good, but because it was about Robert Louis Stevenson. I knew his books, but his life was a total surprise. So thank you Nancy Horan for educating me (Barbara H). Those who are aware of Stevenson's masterpiece works, such as Treasure Island, have probably imagined the author - if they thought about him at all - as being a strong, rugged individual capable of participating in his own action tales. But the opposite was true. (Rosemary K). Nancy Horan's telling is more than a good read; it is a kind of Life Simulator, allowing us to hear the hacking coughs, feel the hard seats of Victorian-age travel, and smell the flowers of Samoa. I'm going to re-read Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with new eyes, as if I had known the author and his family (Mark O).
Readers appreciated Nancy Horan's excellent balance of thorough research and creative imagination:
This is a work of fiction, strongly anchored in history. Portrayed in depth, the characters come to life as people for whom we care (Linda A.) Nancy Horan's research of the time period is right on and the journey of the relationship between Fanny and Louis - their struggles, happiness, hardships - drew me right in. Her wonderfully written descriptions of all the places they traveled put me right there in that time period and made me feel as though I was there with them (Marcia F). Horan's gifted writing style permeates the well researched affair (Ann B).
While a few readers had some critique of the novel too:
There was too little about the actual work of Robert Louis Stevenson in Under the Wide and Starry Sky, and too much repeated about his illness (Jan C). I liked Fanny's grit and it was a nice love story in the beginning, but after the first half of the book I truly wanted to finish so I could read a new book (Elinor S). Although a lot of the descriptions of the exotic places that the author took us were pure, visual and lovely, I found I was frequently bored throughout the book and found myself "trying" to connect with the characters. This will not keep me from reading future books from Ms. Horan, an obviously talented writer (Vicky R).
All in all, our readers were swept up in the tempestuous adventure that was Fanny and Robert Louis's life, and they believe many others will be too:
Under the Wide and Starry Sky will appeal to those who enjoyed Loving Frank and other recent biographical novels about remarkable women who lived under the shadow of famous men (See Beyond the Book.) Writers, I believe, will especially enjoy eavesdropping on the everyday routine of two artists, who strive to balance family needs with the demands of their literary lives (Linda P). I am sure this is another best seller, perfect for book clubs, definitely more of a woman's book than a man's, probably not as appreciated by the young adult audience as by someone who has lived, and suffered, and loved (Laura M). I would recommend this book to libraries and book clubs because it is one which gives unusual insight into the lives of two famous people (Sarah W). This story will delight those who enjoy the late 19th century European and American literary and social scene (Ann B).
This review was originally published in January 2014, and has been updated for the September 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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