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Pub Date: Jan. 21st, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-345-51653-4
Publisher: Ballantine

Horan (Loving Frank, 2007) offers another fictionalized romantic biography, this time of Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny.

In 1875, 35-year-old Fanny Osbourne arrives in Europe with her three children—16-year-old Belle, 7-year-old Sammy and 3-year-old Hervey—ostensibly to study art but really to escape Sam, her perpetually unfaithful husband. After Hervey dies of tuberculosis in Paris, grieving Fanny decamps to a rural inn, where she encounters "Louis." He has been hiking the countryside alone, despite fragile health, to celebrate earning a law degree to please his father, although he plans never to practice law. For Louis, 10 years Fanny’s junior, it is love at first sight. Initially, she resists—he is too boisterous and sickly—but she is eventually won over, as every reader will be, by his love of life and pure spirit as well as his genius. They live happily more or less together in Paris until Sam arrives from California and begs Fanny to reconcile. For the sake of her kids, Fanny returns to the U.S., but soon, Sam begins philandering again. Meanwhile, Louis has taken his famous donkey ride in the Cévennes, then heads to California to win Fanny back, arriving at her doorstep deathly ill from his arduous journey. Sam agrees to a divorce, and the lovers marry in 1880; Fanny is 40, Louis 29. While Louis’ parents accept her as family, his literary friends, with the exception of the stalwart Henry James, consider her an American rube and are increasingly jealous of Louis’ success. The Stevensons begin a life of travel: Scotland, Switzerland, France, Bournemouth, Colorado, the South Seas. Frequently bedridden, Louis is always writing, and this novel shows the germinating seeds of his classic works. 

While the retelling of the Stevensons' lives is rather pedestrian, Robert Louis Stevenson comes through as utterly irresistible.