Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

This novel chronicles the love story of Fanny Van de Grift Osborne and Robert Louis Stevenson from the moment they met in a quiet town in France to her life after his death. Louis, as he was called, moved into Fanny’s apartment after a short while after their introduction, and the couple was happy until Franny’s husband, Sam, from whom she was separated, persuaded Fanny to reunite with him and move back to America. She tried this arrangement for the sake of her two children, but Sam soon became unfaithful again, and after about a year, finally agreed to a divorce. Fanny and Louis were married and sailed for the South Seas, in an attempt to improve Louis’ health, as he had been an invalid for much of his life. Life in Samoa became quite an adventure, although the couple suffered many ups and downs throughout their married life.

I found the novel very enjoyable, and wonder how much is based in fact. I’m tempted to read a biography of Stevenson or his wife Fanny to find out the balance between fact and fiction. One tidbit in the novel that was interesting was a description of Fanny’s house in San Francisco, where she moved after Louis died. It contained a stained glass window depicting the Hispaniola from Treasure Island. I would definitely recommend it as a literary romance.

“By Its Cover”

“By Its Cover” is the latest in Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series.  Set in the spring in Venice, a city that American Leon has lived in for more than thirty years, the plot involves the theft of priceless literary works from the fictitious Biblioteca Merula.  An American professor researching maritime trade,  an ex-priest reading about the history of the Church, and a guard who has worked at the library for a very long time are the only suspects in the crime.

Leon has written more than thirty books in this series.  There is usually more than one sub-plot plus opportunities to learn more about Brunetti, his family, and life in Venice.  “By Its Cover” is perhaps the most straight forward plot in the more than 10 books I have read in her series.  Since there are really only three suspects, with  one of them eventually being brutally murdered, the plot unfolds with not too many unexpected events.

What Leon does develop in this novel is the relationship that Brunetti has with his wife’s mother and father.  Paola’s parents are very wealthy, own a home on the Grand Canal and are part of the Italian aristocracy.  Brunetti’s acceptance by his wife’s family has improved over the years, and in “By Its Cover” the reader learns of the affection they have for their son-in-law.  Add this to Leon’s descriptions of Venice in the spring and you have a good read.  This may not be Leon’s best work, but it does keep the reader interested and entertained.

Re-Reading

This morning a patron came in for an old classic and said how interesting it is to re-read books that were read years ago, how their meaning can change, become more appreciated or less so. The same subject was in yesterday’s Bookends from the N Y Times Book Review. Adam Kirsch pondered how important T.S. Eliot had been to his introduction to poetry as a youth and how his feelings have changed. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock must be the most perfect expression of adolescent anguish ever written…even The Waste Land with its showy references and sexual dread, seems like a kind of young person’s performance. This is not to say that it is not as great a poem as ever, just that there may be different kinds of greatness, suited to different phases of our growth.”

“The Headmaster’s Wife”

“The Headmaster’s Wife” by Thomas Christopher Greene is a novel divided into two sections. In the first we meet the headmaster of the prestigious Vermont boarding school in his late 50’s as he is attracted to one of his female students and pursues her surreptiously. His wife is distant and distracted though we aren’t sure why. The first half of the story reads quickly as the affair between headmaster/teacher progresses: at first in  an unsurprising manner and then taking an unexpected turn. The second half of the story, interspersed with dialogue between the headmaster and the NYPD police who found him wandering naked in Central Park, portrays the story from a different perspective and provides the reader with something deeper to ponder.

“Divorce Papers: A Novel” by Susan Rieger

The story of Mia and Dr. Daniel Durkheim. A couple married 17 years living in a fictional (Rhode Island?) town. Out of the blue, Daniel asks Mia for a divorce and the war begins. They have an 11-year old daughter as well. He works as a well-respected pediatric oncologist. She gave up her career to be the primary caregiver and raise their daughter.

The book is completely told in e-mails, letters, law documents, memos and notes. Sophie is the young attorney Mia engages to represent her and she is another storyline in itself. Sophie is a criminal attorney, but is asked by her firm to take on this case despite her protests. The acrimony affects her and brings up memories of her own parents’ separation when she was a child. Seems it could have been edited down a bit and not sure how realistic or wishful thinking the plot really is. Ok, not great.