Under the Wide and Starry Sky: A Novel by Nancy Horan

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Rating – 4 stars

It was as a little girl that I discovered my love of books and an appreciation for the visual arts. I would read all sorts of comics and fairy-tale books and eventually also watch adaptations of them. The wizard of Oz was a huge part of the time of my life as were many other movies. It was during the time I was perhaps an 8 or 9-year-old that I saw a horror movie for the first time.  And got nightmares for weeks. The movie was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which I would learn was adapted from a book of the same name written by Robert Louis Stevenson.

As much as the movie horrified me , it also fascinated me. I remember wondering what could have served as the inspiration to the author for writing this book.  I would find my answer while reading Nancy Horan’ Under the Wide and Starry Sky. Horan has of course borrowed the title of this book from a poem written by Stevenson himself, to be used on his grave-marker.

I requested this title for the dual purpose of getting to know a bit about Stevenson, an author whose works I am yet to read but have enjoyed owing to movie adaptations and stage shows and of course to read Horan, an author I was planning to read for a while now.

Horan writes a fictionalized account of Stevenson’ life, focusing specially on the circumstances revolving around his affair and eventual marriage to  Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, a divorced mother of three who was also ten years his senior. Stevenson, fondly called Louis by his friends, met a distraught Fanny trying to come to terms with the loss of her youngest child Hervey.

It was strange and yet a bit fascinating for me to read a historical fiction book that has its inspiration in real people, characters who actually lived since it was new to me. While I was apprehensive and excited at the same time when I requested the book from Netgalley, I am glad I took the chance else I would have missed out on 2 great things – the chance to know a little bit about a man who has served as inspiration to countless authors and enriched our lives, especially childhoods with his works and also the opportunity to read the work of an author like Horan.

I really loved how Horan used these people as her inspiration and wrote a story  that was firmly rooted in reality but never lost my interest. Usually when romances are written or a fictionalized account of someone’ life is written it can be approached with an excitement, a curiosity – but that can only stay if the author manages to lure you in with his/her style and also doesn’t make you feel cheated when dealing with facts. Horan’ writing somehow transcended me into a space where I could imagine Louis’ plight while he traveled aboard the steamship Devonia, Fanny’ heartbreak when she lost her son Hervey or her anger and utter humiliation owing to the philandering ways of her husband Sam Osbourne. 

Shakespeare has famously said the course of true love never did run smooth, that aptly applies to the love story of Louis & Fanny. But what is beautiful about them is they did make it. 

Sometimes in a world full of heartbreaks and betrayals, when it seems that the recourse of true love may be perhaps present only in the fictionalized world of literature and cinema, it was beautiful and heart-touching to read about the life and love of two people, who were real and who made it together in the end despite all the odds they faced. Call me a romantic, but I ended this book with a smile on my lips for having read it, for having had the pleasure to travel back in time through Horan’ work into the lives of two people who made me feel there is a thing such as soul-mates after all.

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