(Throughout the review I'm going to abbreviate Robert Louis Stevenson to RLS because homeboy has a long name and I don't have all day to spell it out 45 times in one review.)
Fanny Osbourne is barely keeping it together. One of her children has died and it's landed her in an asylum in France for "melancholia". The doctor there suggests that she goes to an artist colony nearby where she can find therapy in her painting and spending time with her daughter Belle. She gets more than she bargains for when she meets and falls in love with RLS. He isn't the famous author yet, he's more of a scraggly wanderer with a persistent cough due to a lung condition but the attraction between he and Fanny is swift. There is the complication that she is married, has two kids (one, is closer in age to RLS than Fanny is) and lives in America. She eventually leaves France, assuming that this is the end of her romance. But it is not.
RLS travels across the ocean and then across the United States to join Fanny in California. His doctor tells him before he leaves that the trip will almost certainly kill him. It nearly does. (That could be the subtitle of this book: "Almost everything nearly killed him. The fact he lived to write anything is darn near miraculous"). Fanny is shocked and surprised and thrilled and horrified at his arrival. She had been making a real effort to make a clean break from him and try to mentally leave him behind and now his scraggly blonde face is there.
The rest of the book details what happens next! Should they be together? What about the kids? If she divorces her husband she will be penniless and it's not like RLS is rolling in the dough, so what would they do? What will his family think? Will RLS live long enough to figure any of this out with Fanny since he keeps not eating and getting sick?
There's a kind of curdling moment when RLS sees men setting fire and hacking a part a dead whale carcass. Glad that this book wasn't scratch and sniff!
Here is what kind of grinded my gears about this book (and it really doesn't have anything to do with the book or the writing or anything like that).
-Belle is all concerned her daughter is a "trollop". Uuuuhh can we talk about how you and RLS were running around basically in public in France and in California and kind of flaunted it in front of everyone including the kids? If she is a trollop, who do you think she learned it from? Pot meet kettle, kettle meet pot.
- I had a hard time cheering for any of these characters. Everyone's complicated and messy and that's fine, but I like to have someone to cheer for. Personal preference.
But it was an interesting, easy read that was well paced. If you have an interest in forbidden romance, art, or RLS I definitely recommend it for you!
About the Author
Mark Wiederanders lives in Northern California and writes about the private lives of famous authors. His screenplay about William Shakespeare’s family, “Taming Judith” was a finalist in the Academy of Motion Pictures’ annual screenwriting competition and was optioned by a film company. The idea for his current novel, STEVENSON’S TREASURE hatched during a visit to Carmel, when Mark learned that Robert Louis Stevenson suffered a near-fatal collapse in 1879 while hiking nearby. What was the young, as-yet unknown Scottish writer doing so far from home?
To write the novel that resulted from this question, Mark studied hundreds of historical letters and visited sites near him in Monterey, San Francisco, and Calistoga. Then he followed Stevenson’s footsteps to Europe, lodging at the Stevenson home in Edinburgh followed by a week in the Highlands cottage where RLS wrote TREASURE ISLAND. Mark is also a research psychologist (Ph.D, University of Colorado) who has studied treatment programs for delinquents and the criminally insane. His interests include acting in community theater (recently a Neil Simon play), downhill skiing, golf, and spending time with his wife and three grown children.