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Book Review: Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan (2/5). Too long and poor audio.

18 Sep

If someone recommends a book to me, I feel required to read it. Double that if it’s a librarian. So when a librarian asked me if I’d read this title, and added on top of that how much she enjoyed the audio, this seemed like a no brainer. Well. I’ll be more selective of the books I decide to read now because I’ve gone through a string of not-very-good recommendations. (To clarify, that’s in-person recommendations. Book blog recommendations have yet to fail me.)

Book Cover image via

Book Cover image via

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

Fanny Osbourne has finally found it in her to run away from her cheating husband and go to Europe to pursue art. She’s taken her three children in tow and never expected to fall in love in France. No less with a man ten years younger than her. But she can’t run away from the charms of Robert Louis Stevenson. After ensuring a divorce from her husband, Sam, Fanny and Louis begin an adventurous life together, never settling down completely and keeping near to the water. Louis has bad lungs and being near the sea seems to make him better which leads them to settle down in Samoa. Finally able to work on some land she calls her own, Fanny’s mind starts to betray her and she finds herself paranoid and for once being the patient instead of the nurse.

I should have been more skeptical of this going in. I’ve read two other ‘famous wives’ books before this one, The Paris Wife and The Aviator’s Wife and I wasn’t a fan of either. By the time I realized this was another in that trend, I was so in need of a 1800-1889 book that I said ‘screw it’ and got a copy any way. I liked it enough at the beginning because Fanny is a strong woman and I thought she was a good protagonist. But about four disks in, I started feeling the slowness. Some audiobooks seem like they take longer than they do, the same as some books seem to be longer than they are. I thought this one would never end. I was also highly disappointed in the narrator, Kirsten Potter. Stevenson is Scottish and they spend a lot of time with a British friend, which should lend itself well to audio accents to distinguish character differences. However, Potter seemed to have some trouble when switching between characters with different accents. On occasions, Louis would speak with no accent that would slowly become British and then later be strongly Scottish and Fanny at times spoke with a Scottish accent. Instead of clarifying who was speaking, I found myself frequently more confused. I don’t tend to comment on audio often, even when I listened to the audiobook, but I was really disappointed in this one.

Fannny seemed a bit ahead of her time as far as woman’s rights are concerned, though that was explained away on a European influence. She was very head strong and went after the things she wanted, sometimes at the expense of those around her. Her pushing nature could be good, as in her divorce from Sam, but they could be punishing as well, in the example of planting the cocoa plants in Samoa. She’s the kind of person I’d like to work with, but wouldn’t want to be friends with. Until her mental illness, she seemed like a very real person I could know, so that’s a tribute to Horan’s writing.

Sam/Lloyd was my favorite character. He was gone from a good chunk of the novel, but when he came back, he played a rather large role in Fanny and Louis’s lives. I loved how he wanted Louis to mentor him and he became a very good help to his parents while they were sailing. Maybe I liked him best because he was a good brother to his older sister and that reminds me of my brother (not that I’m comparing myself to Belle!).

I found all of these characters to be very removed from myself. Their concerns and lifestyles were nothing like those I’m used to in 21st century Michigan. Your literary friends on the other side of the world are saying your wife is pushy? Can find good help these days in Samoa? The art school doesn’t accept women?!?! Yeah, not really my life now and I don’t see it ever becoming my life. It made it hard to get into this book.

Nancy Horan Image via Barnes & Noble website

Nancy Horan
Image via Barnes & Noble website

Belle and Fanny’s reunion was my favorite part of the book. It was good to see Belle realized she had become her mother. They had both made rash decisions when it came to men but realized they were stronger than that and could learn to do their own things. I was scared for Belle when she went off to Hawaii to be married and it was good to have her reappear in the book with a cutie pie little son.

I actually disliked most of this book. I think it was exceedingly long (14 disks on audio) and I never felt like I knew what the purpose was. I like in books when there is a defined journey and I don’t like the excuse of ‘life is a journey.’ Taking the Ring to Mordor is a journey; killing Lord Voldemort is a journey; establishing a new government system in Panem is a journey. Living with Robert Louis Stevenson is not a journey. You’re only done with it when you’re dead, not when you’ve accomplished something. I was bored.

Loyalty to family is the biggest theme I can think of for this book. Fanny was loyal to Louis when he was sick and when she had the chance to be reunited with Belle, Fanny did it in style. She included her good-for-noting husband even though he and Fanny did not get along. She let Lloyd follow his dream of being a writer and supported her children even when there wasn’t the money for it. Fanny was a loyal character and when she needed to rely on those around her, she could, because she’d taught them to be loyal.

Writer’s Takeaway: Stories need a journey. I feel that the novels I’m writing have a journey and when the journey’s done, I’ll end the story. Horan has a different take on this and it’s not for me. I couldn’t get into this book because I didn’t know what the characters were after, what they wanted to accomplish. I waited for them to die and that’s not an exciting story to me.

The poor audio doesn’t help my rating for this. Two out of Five stars.

This book fulfills 1880-1889 for my When Are You Reading? Challenge and Foreign Country: Samoa for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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