Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
Ihave two hobbies that go together well – travel and reading. When I’m headed to a new place I look for a good historical fiction book to add to the experience and bring the past to life. I could choose a dry, boring text to get the facts, but that’s not vacation reading for me.
I read Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan as part of a visit to Edinburgh in May. We didn’t exactly take the road less traveled, but did veer off the Royal Mile to visit Lady Stair’s home dedicated to the Scottish writers Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson. All long-dead literary celebrities as fascinating as the characters they immortalized.
Robert Louis Stevenson comes to life in Horan’s book. This is the author who wrote the famous classics: A Child’s Garden of Verses, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
She writes the story of Stevenson and his wife Fanny Osbourne. Their love story is far from traditional or predictable. A 35 year old American woman, fleeing a philandering husband, meets a 25 year old Scot who wants to give up being a lawyer and become a writer.
The story starts in 1875 with an introduction to Fanny as she and her two children sail the Atlantic towards Belgium. A few months later Fanny and Louis meet, but it will be a few years before they actually marry. The novel ends with the death of Louis in Samoa in 1894.
If I ever travel to Samoa, I’ll bring this wonderful book along with me to read again. It traveled by ship, train and bus with me from across England to Edinburgh and was a great companion.
Horan writes, “Under the Wide and Starry Sky is a novel inspired by actual events in the lives of Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson. Their letters and published works, along with those of their families and friends, provided the main sources for this book. In attempting to bring to life these extraordinary characters, I have occasionally put into their mouths their own written words. That said, numerous letters and diary entries are invented.”
I enjoyed Horan’s last book, Loving Frank, which was another well researched historical fiction love story about Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick written in 2007. When I saw that she had finally published another book in 2013, I knew it would be a good one.