Under the Wide and Starry Sky
by Nancy Horan
Author Robert Louis Stevenson was famous for his novels, but little is generally know about the woman he loved. Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne was an Indiana girl that Stevenson met in Europe. The two had an incredible life together and this fictionalized version of it gives readers a glimpse into their world.
After reading Horan’s “Loving Frank” I wasn’t surprised to find this book was a full portrayal of a fascinating woman that was well researched. It’s truly Fanny’s story, in the same way “Loving Frank” was about the woman behind Frank Lloyd Wright. Fanny was a writer and artist before she ever met Stevenson.
Yet with all that being said, the book also offers a look into the author’s life. A few years ago I visited the Robert Louis Stevenson museum in California because I wanted to learn more about the man behind classics like “Treasure Island,” “Kidnapped,” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” I knew he struggled with a debilitating illness his entire life, but I never knew about his romance or the rich adventures he had despite his ailments. I was amazed by how easily they moved from one side of the world to another, Europe to California to Samoa, especially during a time when communication was so difficult. Each time the moved they embraced a completely new culture.
The mental illness at the end of the book felt like it came out of nowhere. All books like this are somewhat hemmed in by the facts and real timelines. Plotting is more difficult because real life doesn’t follow a story arch
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting book that provides insight into an incredibly talented writer. It’s not a perfect, but Horan has a skill for capturing the spirits of the strong women that are often trapped in their more famous partners’ shadows.