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Under the Wide and Starry Sky

Cover of Under the Wide and Starry Sky

Under the Wide and Starry Sky

A Novel
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • TODAY SHOW BOOK CLUB PICK

Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader's Circle for author chats and more.

From Nancy Horan, New York Times bestselling author of Loving Frank, comes her much-anticipated second novel, which tells the improbable love story of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his tempestuous American wife, Fanny.

At the age of thirty-five, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne has left her philandering husband in San Francisco to set sail for Belgium--with her three children and nanny in tow--to study art. It is a chance for this adventurous woman to start over, to make a better life for all of them, and to pursue her own desires. Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her children repair to a quiet artists' colony in France where she can recuperate. Emerging from a deep sorrow, she meets a lively Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who falls instantly in love with the earthy, independent, and opinionated "belle Americaine."

Fanny does not immediately take to the slender young lawyer who longs to devote his life to writing--and who would eventually pen such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In time, though, she succumbs to Stevenson's charms, and the two begin a fierce love affair--marked by intense joy and harrowing darkness--that spans the decades and the globe. The shared life of these two strong-willed individuals unfolds into an adventure as impassioned and unpredictable as any of Stevenson's own unforgettable tales.

Praise for Under the Wide and Starry Sky

"A richly imagined [novel] of love, laughter, pain and sacrifice . . . Under the Wide and Starry Sky is a dual portrait, with Louis and Fanny sharing the limelight in the best spirit of teamwork--a romantic partnership."--USA Today

"Powerful . . . flawless . . . a perfect example of what a man and a woman will do for love, and what they can accomplish when it's meant to be."--Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Spectacular . . . an exhilarating epic about a free-spirited couple who traveled the world yet found home only in one another."--Booklist (starred review)

"Horan's prose is gorgeous enough to keep a reader transfixed, even if the story itself weren't so compelling. I kept re-reading passages just to savor the exquisite wordplay. . . . Few writers are as masterful as she is at blending carefully researched history with the novelist's art."--The Dallas Morning News

"A classic artistic bildungsroman and a retort to the genre, a novel that shows how love and marriage can simultaneously offer inspiration and encumbrance."--The New York Times Book Review

"Nancy Horan has done it again, capturing the entwined lives of Fanny Osbourne and Robert Louis Stevenson so uncannily, it reads like truth."--Sarah Blake, author of The Postmistress

"Horan has a distinct knack for evoking the rich, complicated lives of long-gone artists and the women who inspired them."--Entertainment Weekly

From the Trade Paperback edition.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • TODAY SHOW BOOK CLUB PICK

Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader's Circle for author chats and more.

From Nancy Horan, New York Times bestselling author of Loving Frank, comes her much-anticipated second novel, which tells the improbable love story of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his tempestuous American wife, Fanny.

At the age of thirty-five, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne has left her philandering husband in San Francisco to set sail for Belgium--with her three children and nanny in tow--to study art. It is a chance for this adventurous woman to start over, to make a better life for all of them, and to pursue her own desires. Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her children repair to a quiet artists' colony in France where she can recuperate. Emerging from a deep sorrow, she meets a lively Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who falls instantly in love with the earthy, independent, and opinionated "belle Americaine."

Fanny does not immediately take to the slender young lawyer who longs to devote his life to writing--and who would eventually pen such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In time, though, she succumbs to Stevenson's charms, and the two begin a fierce love affair--marked by intense joy and harrowing darkness--that spans the decades and the globe. The shared life of these two strong-willed individuals unfolds into an adventure as impassioned and unpredictable as any of Stevenson's own unforgettable tales.

Praise for Under the Wide and Starry Sky

"A richly imagined [novel] of love, laughter, pain and sacrifice . . . Under the Wide and Starry Sky is a dual portrait, with Louis and Fanny sharing the limelight in the best spirit of teamwork--a romantic partnership."--USA Today

"Powerful . . . flawless . . . a perfect example of what a man and a woman will do for love, and what they can accomplish when it's meant to be."--Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Spectacular . . . an exhilarating epic about a free-spirited couple who traveled the world yet found home only in one another."--Booklist (starred review)

"Horan's prose is gorgeous enough to keep a reader transfixed, even if the story itself weren't so compelling. I kept re-reading passages just to savor the exquisite wordplay. . . . Few writers are as masterful as she is at blending carefully researched history with the novelist's art."--The Dallas Morning News

"A classic artistic bildungsroman and a retort to the genre, a novel that shows how love and marriage can simultaneously offer inspiration and encumbrance."--The New York Times Book Review

"Nancy Horan has done it again, capturing the entwined lives of Fanny Osbourne and Robert Louis Stevenson so uncannily, it reads like truth."--Sarah Blake, author of The Postmistress

"Horan has a distinct knack for evoking the rich, complicated lives of long-gone artists and the women who inspired them."--Entertainment Weekly

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    "Where are the dogs?" Sammy asked, staring up at her.

    Fanny Osbourne stood at the boat's rail, holding an umbrella against the August drizzle. Her feet were planted apart, and each of her boys leaned against a leg. Around them, a forest of masts creaked in the dark harbor. She searched the distance for the shape of a city. Here and there smudges of light promised Antwerp was waiting, just beyond the pier.

    "We'll see the dogs tomorrow," she told him.

    "Are they sleeping now?" the boy asked.

    "Yes, they're surely sleeping."

    Lanterns illuminated the other passengers, whose weary faces reflected her own fatigue. After a ten-day Atlantic crossing, she and the children had transferred to this paddleboat for the tail end of their journey, across the English Channel to Antwerp. Now they huddled on deck among the others--mostly American and English businessmen--waiting for some sign that they could disembark.

    Fanny had begun spinning stories about the famous cart-pulling dogs of Antwerp soon after they boarded the ship in New York. As her sons' patience waned during the long trip, the dogs' feats became increasingly more fantastic. They swam out to sea to rescue the drowning, dug through the mud to unearth gold, gripped trousers in their teeth and pulled old men out of burning buildings. When they weren't busy delivering milk around town, the dogs carried children through the cobblestone streets, calling upon bakers who handed out sugar-dusted cakes and apple fritters. Now, moored a few yards away from the great port city, Fanny hoped that the dogcart was not a thing of the past in Antwerp these days.

    "Eleven o'clock," said Mr. Hendricks, the baby-faced surgeon from New York who stood nearby, eyeing his pocket watch. "I suspect we won't be getting off this boat tonight." They watched a cluster of customs officials exchange heated Flemish with the captain of their channel steamer.

    "Do you understand what's happening?" Fanny asked.

    "The Belgians are refusing to inspect anyone's trunks until tomorrow."

    "That's impossible! There aren't enough beds on this little boat for all of us."

    The surgeon shrugged. "What can one do? I am philosophical about these things."

    "And I am not," she muttered. "The children are exhausted."

    "Shall I try to secure sleeping cabins for you?" Mr. Hendricks asked, his pretty features wreathed in concern.

    The doctor had been kind to Fanny from the moment she'd met him at dinner the first evening of the voyage. "Why, art!" she responded when he asked what had prompted her journey. "Culture. Isn't that the reason Americans travel to Europe?" The man had stared intently at her across the table, as if deciding whether she was mad or heroic for bringing her three children abroad for an entire year.

    "My daughter and I will study figure drawing and painting," she'd explained. "I want her to have classical training with the best."

    "Ah," he said knowingly, "you, too, then, are a voluntary exile. I come for the same reason--the best of everything Europe has to offer. This year it's Paris in the autumn, then Italy for the winter."

    She had watched him maneuver a forkful of peas into his mouth and wondered when he had time to work. He was a bachelor and quite rich, judging from his itinerary and impeccable clothes. His soft black ringlets framed an unlined forehead, round pink cheeks, and the lips of a putto. She had glanced at Sammy next to her, pushing his peas onto a spoon with his left thumb. "Watch how Mr. Hendricks does it," she whispered in the boy's ear.

    "I can see you have mettle, Mrs. Osbourne," the surgeon said. "Do you have any...

About the Author-
  • Nancy Horan's first novel, Loving Frank, chronicles a little-known chapter in the life of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was translated into sixteen languages, remained on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year, and in 2009 was awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction, presented by the Society of American Historians. Under the Wide and Starry Sky explores the shared journey of Robert Louis Stevenson and his spirited American wife, Fanny, in a sweeping adventure that unfolds over eighteen years and three continents. Nancy Horan has two sons, and lives with her husband on an island in Puget Sound.

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