Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Stars in Their Eyes for Starry Skies

Under the Wide and Starry SkyUnder the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Under the Wide and Starry Sky, Nancy Horan’s new novel based upon the lives of Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson, is epic in scope.  I have to give her four stars just for the attempt!

The book starts out in the late 1800s, with Fanny going to Europe with her 3 children to study art, after she’s reached her limit with her philandering husband. She’s ten years older than Louis Stevenson, but he falls for her hard and fast. R. L. follows her back to the U.S. By 1880, after a separation and brink-of-death illnesses for both of them, they are married. Then come 14 years of creativity, ill health, and much displacement for both of them, until they end up in Samoa, where R.L. eventually dies of a stroke.
There is so much wonderful material for discussion here that this will be a great book club book, despite its flaws. Fanny has her own yearnings and talent for the creative life—is it the times or her own lack that prevents her from fully realizing her dreams? Does creative genius always grind up romantic partnership in its own gears?
Though based upon extensive research (notes not seen), Fanny and R.L. never seem to really come to life, and the book remains a story about them rather than bringing the reader in.  The descriptions of Europe at the time are very good, and those of the dirt, terror, excitement, and ignorance of the times are really impacting. It makes one long for a book about Fanny herself, because once R.L. enters the story, it all seems to revolve around him—and one wonders why. R. L. deserves his own novel, as well.  It would be fascinating to see them through each other’s eyes.

Recommended for book clubs, libraries, and fans of historical fiction.
Note: Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley, I received an e-galley of the book to review.

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