Friday, February 7, 2014

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Nancy Horan's latest, Under the Wide and Starry Sky.

Fanny has had it with her husband's other women! But for a married woman in the 1870s, there are few options for escape. And so Fanny packs up her three children and their belongings and heads to Europe where she hopes to provide her kids with education and worldiness. But tragedy strikes when Fanny's youngest takes ill and eventually passes away. She and the other children retreat to the French village of Grez-sur-Loing where she meets Robert Louis Stevenson. Of course Fanny isn't to know that this fateful meeting will lead to the love of a lifetime.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend last year's regional trade show and speak briefly with the Random House reps. They were raving about Horan's latest and so, when the opportunity to join the tour arose, I could not pass up the chance.

I've not read Horan's debut, Loving Frank, though I am aware of how popular it is with readers. That one focuses on Frank Lloyd Wright and his relationship with Mamah Borthwick Cheney (and the more I learn about Wright the more interested I am in that particular book). Horan tackles yet another real life couple in Under the Wide and Starry Sky with author Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson.

There is a certain amount of trust that must be had between reader and author when it comes to a book based in history. I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that many of Horan's readers will know little or nothing (as is the case with me) about this couple going into the book and so we have to rely on her word that what we're reading is based in fact.

As a reader, all I can judge on is the quality of the writing and the believability of the story. And I have to give Horan top marks in both categories! Through her prose and attention to detail, Horan not only captured my attention and held it through the entire story, but she made me believe that what I was reading was indeed the way it happened. Of course I know that even with primary source material no one can really know what Fanny and Louis (as he's referred to in the story) were truly thinking and feeling, but Horan's version is so warm and appealing that it doesn't matter. It's fiction based in fact. It's an attempt to bring to life a story about two people who existed and obviously loved one another very much (Fanny was with Stevenson through thick and thin, sickness and health). And it works.

Horan's picture of Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson is a formidable woman with a heart and soul, an interest in the arts and literature, but also a woman who set aside many of her own wants and needs to take care of others - first her husband Sam and then Louis, whose writing she supports and nurtures fully. And Horan's version of Louis is of a man who yearns to be great. Someone who wants to make his mark but also someone with an honest love for life and storytelling. Of course prior to this Stevenson was just a classic name in literature to me. The author of works such as Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Kidnapped. I knew nothing of his life, his relationships, his illnesses...

Under the Wide and Starry Sky is an appealing novel for many reasons, just one of which is the vibrancy that Horan brings to these characters and their relationship. It's a book that I so heartily enjoyed!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Nancy Horan and her work, you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook.



Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Thanks for being a part of the tour! I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

Tabitha (Pabkins) said...

That does sound like a great book. It never hit my radar - I'll have to take another look and see who else I know has read it.