Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a free ARC from the publisher in exchange for this review.
It's always a challenge to write historical fiction, especially when you're centered on 1 person or 1 family. This is historical fiction based on the life of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, Fanny, through their courtship, marriage, and his eventual death. Stevenson wrote such classics as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He was from Scotland, she was from America, and several years older than he was. He was in poor health, suffering from a variety of lung ailments. (Note: these aren't spoiler alerts; this information is all available on Wikipedia.) The book follows them as they travel from France, where they met, to Scotland, California, Hawaii, Sydney, and Samoa, where Stevenson lived the rest of his life. Reading the book, you can feel how Stevenson's illness affected him. You also feel sympathy for Fanny, who wound up being his nurse for most of his life, and later suffered bouts of mental illness. The book dramatizes the writing of Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It discusses the origins of Long John Silver (no, he didn't start out owning a restaurant chain), as well as phrases such as "Shiver me timbers!" It also shows how Stevenson wrote Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and some of the underlying meanings that people even at the time it was written were reading into it. The title comes from a poem that Stevenson wrote to his wife. I almost wonder what would have happened if Stevenson had been in better health, would he have written more. Even though it is not a factual biography, the author uses quite a bit of source material to make it sound as authentic as possible. Obviously, sections where she discusses what the characters are thinking, as well as some of the conversations, are fictionalized for dramatic effect. One thing I noticed was that some chapters had the year on top, to indicate when time moved ahead, especially by a few years. I would have liked to see that on all the chapters. I only received an ARC, so I'm not sure if this was in the final copy, but I would have liked to see pictures in the book, to know what some of the people looked like. All in all, though, a good book. Also, this would be a good introduction to Robert Louis Stevenson, and those who think pirate adventures begin and end with Captain Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Carribean movies. I'll have to start reading Treasure Island again.
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