Having adored Horan’s first novel, Loving Frank, I was ecstatic to learn there was to be another. Under the Wide and Starry Sky is a lovely read filled with action, adventure, and vividly written characters that experience a wrenching spectrum of emotions. Tempestuous love, passionate fury, bleak despair, and raging madness.
We meet Fanny van de Grift Osbourne as she is about to disembark from a ship just arrived in Antwerp. She has fled her old life in San Francisco and the shame and humiliation of a cheating husband who she has repeatedly forgiven and taken back. The last straw, apparently, came when one of his women attempted to pay a call at their residence in Oakland. Like any normal woman with blood in her veins and a spine in her back, Fanny, filled with rage and indignation, packed up her three children, and left. Her destination, Europe and it’s art.
Several months pass, and heart (and mind) breaking tragedy occurs, before a young Robert Louis Stevenson, makes our acquaintance. Louis, as his friends call him, has just completed a canoe trip and is meeting his friends, and, unbeknownst to him, Fanny, at an inn in the French countryside. For him, it was love the moment they met. It took a bit longer for her. Thus, begins their long, complicated, tempestuous journey.
Unlike with Loving Frank, I actually liked the main characters this time around. For the most part, anyway. There are times when Louis acts like a spoiled child and I just want to smack him. That tantrum he had in the restaurant, for example. And when he threatens to break Fanny’s finger if she doesn’t pull his to stop a laughing fit. She should have done more than just bite him, in my opinion. I realize that his exuberance, his verve, stemmed from the childhood stolen from him by illness, but such behavior was uncalled for.
Fanny showed a lot of courage and perseverance, and not just in her life with Louis. Remember, they lived in the late nineteenth century. Women were expected to look the other way when their husbands cheated and philandered and divorce was considered scandalous, conveying notoriety on the woman, even a wronged woman, who got one.
Horan, with her usual skill and grace, takes us with them on their journey, not just of tremendous distance, but of mind, body, and heart. Here’s hoping for a third novel.
Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
By the way, I was rather disappointed in Henley. His Invictus is one of my all time favorite poems. It saddened my that I ended up not liking his character very much.