Summary and book reviews of Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

Under the Wide and Starry Sky

by Nancy Horan

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2014, 496 pages

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Book Summary

A much-anticipated second novel which tells the improbable love story of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his tempestuous American wife, Fanny.

From Nancy Horan, New York Times bestselling author of Loving Frank, comes her much-anticipated second novel, which tells the improbable love story of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his tempestuous American wife, Fanny.

At the age of thirty-five, Fanny van de Grift Osbourne has left her philandering husband in San Francisco to set sail for Belgium - with her three children and nanny in tow - to study art. It is a chance for this adventurous woman to start over, to make a better life for all of them, and to pursue her own desires.  Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her children repair to a quiet artists' colony in France where she can recuperate. Emerging from a deep sorrow, she meets a lively Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who falls instantly in love with the earthy, independent, and opinionated "belle Americaine."

Fanny does not immediately take to the slender young lawyer who longs to devote his life to writing - and who would eventually pen such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In time, though, she succumbs to Stevenson's charms, and the two begin a fierce love affair - marked by intense joy and harrowing darkness - that spans the decades and the globe. The shared life of these two strong-willed individuals unfolds into an adventure as impassioned and unpredictable as any of Stevenson's own unforgettable tales.

1875

"Where are the dogs?" Sammy asked, staring up at her.

Fanny Osbourne stood at the boat's rail, holding an umbrella against the August drizzle. Her feet were planted apart, and each of her boys leaned against a leg. Around them, a forest of masts creaked in the dark harbor. She searched the distance for the shape of a city. Here and there smudges of light promised Antwerp was waiting, just beyond the pier.

"We'll see the dogs tomorrow," she told him.

"Are they sleeping now?" the boy asked.

"Yes, they're surely sleeping."

Lanterns illuminated the other passengers, whose weary faces reflected her own fatigue. After a ten-day Atlantic crossing, she and the children had transferred to this paddleboat for the tail end of their journey, across the English Channel to Antwerp. Now they huddled on deck among the others—mostly American and English businessmen—waiting for some sign that they could disembark.

Fanny had ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In order to separate from her unfaithful husband, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne takes her children across the continental U.S. and the Atlantic to study art in Europe. Do you think it's the wisest choice, given the impact on her children? Would you make a similar decision under the circumstances? Are there other options she could have pursued?
  2. At first glance, Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson might seem an unlikely match. Why do you think they are so drawn to each other? Why does their relationship endure?
  3. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has become a phrase synonymous with the idea of the divided self. At any points in the novel, does Louis seem to live a double life? Does Fanny? In what ways do Fanny, Louis, and other ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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 of Under the Wide and Starry Sky ride the crest of the wave that was Fanny and Louis Stevenson's loving, sometimes troubling relationship.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review (886 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This beautifully written novel, neatly balanced between its two protagonists, makes them come alive with grace, humor, and understanding. Horan's empathy for both Louis and Fanny allows her to capture their life together with all the complexity and nuance of a real-life relationship.

Kirkus Reviews

While the retelling of the Stevensons' lives is rather pedestrian, Robert Louis Stevenson comes through as utterly irresistible.

Booklist

Starred Review. An exhilarating epic about a free-spirited couple who traveled the world yet found home only in one another.

Author Blurb Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife
Ambitious and often breathtaking, this sweeping story spills over with spirited, uncompromising life.

Author Blurb Sarah Blake, author of The Postmistress
It’s one thing to bring the past to life. It’s quite another to bring it back rich in all its glorious complications. Nancy Horan has done it again, capturing the entwined lives of Fanny Osbourne and Robert Louis Stevenson so uncannily, it reads like truth—and better. I loved every minute I had it in my hands.

Reader Reviews

Betty T.

Surprisingly Delight
When I received the Advance Reading Copy of this book from The Random House Publishing Group, I really did not expect to like it. Imagine my surprise when Nancy Horan’s delightful story enchanted me. This is the story of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ...   Read More

Mark O. (Wenatchee, WA)

RLS and Fanny: home is the sailor, home from sea
"Under the Wide and Starry Sky" is a novelized biography of Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny van de Grift Osbourne. RLS, plagued by chronic lung disease and Fanny, fleeing a disloyal husband and death of a child, find each other in France, opposites...   Read More

Judy (Marysville, OH)

Under the Wide and Starry Sky
Horan's book brings the story of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny van de Grift Osbourne to vivid life. The tales of their travels across the globe, ever in search of places where R.L.S., an off-and-on-again invalid all his life, can be ...   Read More

Alice W. (Sacramento, CA)

Under the Wide and Starry Sky
This book is long and fascinating. R.L.Stevenson's wife is not at all what one would expect. She is ten plus years older than he. Who would guess? She is a pistol and he is at once kind, generous, sickly and willing to live on the edge...with ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

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