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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2014, 496 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers

Buy This Book

About this Book

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 ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

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 Members Only (886 words).

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

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Famous Men – and the Women Next to Them

Ruth MalloryAbove All Things, Tanis Rideout's debut novel, is about a man, his wife and his other great love – a 29,000 foot mountain. Rideout explores Ruth Mallory's point of view in Above All Things; her love for George Mallory, her acceptance of his passion for Mount Everest and her deep grief at losing her husband to the hulking mountain. Why did Rideout choose to tell her story from Ruth's perspective? "George Mallory was so interesting, she (Ruth) had to be interesting, too," says the author.

Rideout's opinion is part of a growing trend among writers. The women behind – and, more often, next to – famous men are popular subject matter for many recent novels. Part of the reason for this is, as Rideout says, that they are ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Under the Wide and Starry Sky, try these:

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson

"Quirky and appealing characters, an engaging story, and honest dialogue make this a great book!"
- BookBrowse

About the book
Join the discussion!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: All We Have Left
    All We Have Left
    by Wendy Mills
    September 11, 2001 is a date that few Americans will ever forget. It was on this day that our ...
  • Book Jacket: A Great Reckoning
    A Great Reckoning
    by Louise Penny
    Canadian author Louise Penny is back with her twelfth entry in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache ...
  • Book Jacket: Homegoing
    Homegoing
    by Yaa Gyasi
    It's all very well to challenge people to be the masters of their own destiny, but when you&#...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Victoria
    by Daisy Goodwin

    Daisy Goodwin breathes new life into Victoria's story, and does so with sensitivity, verve, and wit." - Amanda Foreman

    Read Member Reviews

Who Said...

More Anagrams

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

The Big Holiday Wordplay:
$400+ in Prizes

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.