Published: January 21, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
In her masterful new novel, Nancy Horan has recreated a love story that is as unique, passionate, and overwhelmingly powerful as the one between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney depicted so memorably in Loving Frank. Under the Wide and Starry Sky chronicles the unconventional love affair of Scottish literary giant Robert Louis Stevenson, author of classics including Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and American divorcee Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. They meet in rural France in 1875, when Fanny, having run away from her philandering husband back in California, takes refuge there with her children. Stevenson too is escaping from his life, running from family pressure to become a lawyer. And so begins a turbulent love affair that will last two decades and span the world.
I read Horan's first novel, Loving Frank, shortly after it was published and was rather disappointed. However, what I perceived to be that book's greatest shortcoming was the abruptness of the story arc--and since it was based on a true store, Horan cannot be held accountable for that. I did enjoy her style in Loving Frank, so decided to give her next book a try.
I have sort of a general knowledge of Robert Louis Stevenson, but knew nothing of his personal life. Since I'm a sucker for the "grand love story" I thought this book would be right up my alley. Sadly, this book just didn't work for me. I really can't pinpoint one thing that didn't work for me, as I could with Loving Frank. Rather, I felt there were so many smaller things that just hampered the entire book.
For one thing, the scope of this book is incredibly large--about 30 years. I have nothing against books that cover a large time period, but I've found that the books that are successful with this are very targeted, which this one was not. We start with Fanny and Louis's love affair, and then go to Louis's health, and then to Fanny's jealousy and eventual breakdown and I just never felt there was a unifying theme in this book.
I think that if Horan had decided to tell just Fanny's side of the story, or just Louis's, this book would have been more successful. There were issues on both sides and trying to give equal time to both just kept me from getting to involved in the stories.
There were also times when I just felt this book dragged. I enjoy Horan's voice and she had a very readable style, but there were just some long periods where nothing really happened and it became tedious. The last 10 percent or so of this book was actually quite good, but not good enough to balance out the first 90 percent.
I am not writing off Nancy Horan yet, and I will give her next book a try, whenever it comes out. But this one just wasn't for me.
I received an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.