Book Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful RuinsWhat’s it about?

The story begins in 1962. Somewhere on a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and views an apparition: a beautiful woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an American starlet, he soon learns, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away in Hollywood, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot searching for the woman he last saw at his hotel fifty years before.

Gloriously inventive, funny, tender and constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a novel full of fabulous and yet very flawed people, all of them striving towards another sort of life, a future that is both delightful and yet, tantalizingly, seems just out of reach.

My thoughts

Billed as an ideal summer read this is the first of Jess Walter’s books that I’ve read and it was our book club choice for June. Apparently this book took the author 15 years to write!

OK, so I’ll start positive with the bits I liked:

There are some lovely descriptions of Italy, of the beaches and scenery that do make you feel like Summer’s here, all warm inside and will make you want to jump on a plane.

The chapters do flip back and forth through time and character, if you don’t like books that do that you won’t like this, there are lots of characters that intertwine and lots of points of view. I didn’t mind this, I liked the variety. I did like Dee’s character, in spite of her ‘illness’ I thought she turned out to be a strong independent character when she could have easily been written dependent and clingy.

I really enjoyed Alvis’s chapter about a chance meeting in the war, in fact, this was probably my favourite in the whole book. It actually felt like a short story within the novel.

And I liked these words of wisdom from Pasquale’s mother:

“Sometimes what we want to do and what we must do are not the same. Pasquo, the smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be.”

I liked this book but didn’t love it. I loved the idea of it but found it quite flat, a bit unbelievable and felt it just plodded along. It’s set over 5 decades, mostly in 1960s Italy and present day Hollywood and for the most part the effect Dee has on the men in the story – Pasquale, Richard Burton, Alvis, Michael Deane and Pat but I kind of lost interest towards the end. Although, it did tie up all the loose ends properly.

My interpretation of the title is that actors and actresses are used to being someone and meaning something and in the end they still just end up old, wrinkly and falling apart. ie Beautiful Ruins.

There were some funny parts but by the time I’ve actually come to write this review (only 2 or 3 days after finishing) I’ve forgotten them!

Overall, it’s an easy read but I wasn’t blown away and probably wouldn’t recommend you spend the £5 something to purchase. But if you do want to give it a go, then here’s the link  Beautiful Ruins

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