Beautiful Ruins: A Novel

by Jess Walter

Hardcover, 2012

Call number




Harper (2012), 337 pages


A novel that spans fifty years. The Italian housekeeper and his long-lost American starlet; the producer who once brought them together, and his assistant. A glittering world filled with unforgettable characters.

Media reviews

Ruins constitutes a departure for Walter, another unplowed field, and he harrows it straight and true, turning up the fertile humus of the culture’s soiled psyche. Beautiful Ruins collides its broad range of characters in unexpected, unique ways, and the wonderful light touch of the satire makes them eminently believable. Unlike the Juvenalian satirists, whose righteous indignation sometimes results in flat, two-dimensional, cardboard characterizations, Walter’s people inspire sympathy, belief, even a little self-examination. Am I like this? Do I have any qualities that resemble the ones I’m reading about here? If I do, where do I get help? Jess Walter has written a novel that sprawls on the lawn, looks up fondly at the achingly blue American sky and gazes into the deep humor of our collective human condition. That’s what good satire does—it reminds us who we really are. Humans.
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Walter is simply great on how we live now, and ­— in this particular book — on how we lived then and now, here and there. “Beautiful Ruins” is his Hollywood novel, his Italian novel and his Pacific Northwestern novel all braided into one: an epic romance, tragicomic, invented and reported (Walter knows his “Cleopatra” trivia), magical yet hard-boiled (think García Márquez meets Peter Biskind), with chapters that encompass not just Italy in the ’60s and present-day Hollywood, but also Seattle and Britain and Idaho, plot strands unfolding across the land mines of the last half-century — an American landscape of vice, addiction, loss and heartache, thwarted careers and broken dreams. It is also a novel about love: amorous love, filial love, parental love and the deep, sustaining love of true friendship.... His balanced mixture of pathos and comedy stirs the heart and amuses as it also rescues us from the all too human pain that is the motor of this complex and ever-evolving novel. Any reservations the reader might have about another book about Hollywood, about selling one’s soul (or someone else’s, and pocketing the change) will probably be swept aside by this high-wire feat of bravura storytelling. Walter is a talented and original writer.
This novel is a standout not just because of the inventiveness of its plot, but also because of its language. Jess Walter is essentially a comic writer: Sometimes he's asking readers to laugh at the human condition; sometimes he's inviting us to just plain laugh.

User reviews

LibraryThing member msf59
“This is what happens when you live in dreams, he thought: you dream this and you dream that and you sleep right through your life.”

It’s 1962, at a tiny coastal town in Italy. Pasquale, in his early 20s, is working on his “beach” in front of his small hotel. A lovely young woman arrives on a skiff. She is an actress working in country on the epic “Cleopatra”. This chance meeting, will alter their lives forever.
Flash forward to a Hollywood back-lot, where a infamous film-producer is hearing a movie-pitch. In walks an elderly Italian man, with a crumpled business card, looking for an actress he met fifty years earlier.
In between these moments in time, is a kaleidoscope of different characters and storylines, inter-locking like a vast puzzle. We dance along with writers, soldiers, actors, musicians and fishermen, spanning many decades. Even the great Richard Burton makes a lengthy and drunken appearance. The writing is fresh, funny, intricate and insightful.
It is Walter’s most ambitious novel to date. Highly recommended.
I listened to this on audio book and it was expertly narrated, capturing the many voices, with precision and grace.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
The cover photo led me to believe this was going to be another summer romance set on the beautiful coast of Italy.  Instead, Jess Walter gives us two very complex interwoven stories: one set in 1962, at the time the movie Cleopatra was being filmed in Rome, and the other 50 years later. 

It begins

"The dying actress arrived in his village the only way one could come directly -- in a boat that motored into the cove, lurched past the rock jetty, and bumped against the end of the pier."

The central character, Pasquale Tursi is the owner of the Hotel Adequate View in Porto Vergogna Italy.  One day, as he is trying to build a tennis court on the cliffs of his small town, he sees a glamorous woman alighting from a small boat and making her way to his villa. 

Fifty years later, on the other side of the world in Hollywood, Claire Silver, executive assistant to big time, has-been, botox-bloated producer Michael Deane, is considering whether she will ever fulfill her own dream of being a producer when an aging Italian gentleman arrives in her office looking for a long lost movie star.

The story moves back and forth between the time periods, and is told from several points of view. There are almost too many characters to track in this broad and sweeping overview of the Cinque Terre region of Italy's Liguorian coast and of Hollywood's impact on each one's life.

Each member of this cast of flawed characters is a Beautiful Ruin: from real-life Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (the fictitious adventures here are eminently believable), to Shane Wheeler, a screen-writer wannabe whose rudimentary knowledge of Italian lands him an unexpected role in the adventures.  There is a shell-shocked veteran of WW II, Alvis Bender, who wants the simple life- to write a book and spend every summer as the only regular customer of Hotel Adequate View, befriending Pasquale and his lady friend along the way; there are delightful Italian villagers and fisherman; there's an Italian mother and maiden Italian aunt, all living with Pasquo and helping? impeding? his feelings for the beautiful lady.

There's Dee Moray, the dying actress herself and her ongoing story of a personality where naivete and spunk combine.  There's her son Pat Bender (is Alvis the father?) whose failing musical/poet career gives us a glimpse of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and it's boozy, drug filled underground.

The book cover proclaims this as a roller coaster of a novel, and that is exactly the term I would use.  Each chapter, going back and forth around the globe and through the years, yields a surprise, adds a layer of complexity (and often another character).  It is a book that constantly surprises, delights, dismays, and in the end leaves the rider (reader?) as breathless as one just stepping off a long and dizzying roller coaster ride.

It's as spectacular as the scenery that is so well portrayed.  The characters are as tragically lush as the scenery is beautiful.  The story is complex, well-developed, and written to keep the pages turning.  It's much more than a beach read, and one of 2012's best books.  If you missed it last year, as I did, be sure to put it in your vacation pile for this year. If you're an audio fan, this is well done by Edoardo Ballerini for Harper Audio.  You can close your eyes and imagine yourself on the Riviera.

Beautiful Ruins was one of 10 books on the Short List for the Maine Readers Choice Awards for 2012 books.  It's definitely one for me to read again.
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LibraryThing member jscape2000
Trite. Awesome women wait around for their lonely men to be redeemed. The women suffer, labor, are lied to, and commit suicide in hopes it will improve their men. The more I think about it the less I can recommend it.
LibraryThing member Randall.Hansen
I have to admit that I really enjoy Jess Walter's writing -- especially his wit. I read this book on audio, which is ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL. Not sure I would have liked it quite so much without the splendid narration. Still, this book is a great achievement, with wonderfully woven stories set in numerous time periods and multiple continents. A pleasure to read.… (more)
LibraryThing member yourotherleft
Beautiful Ruins opens with a beautiful film actress arriving in Porto Vergogna, Italy in 1962. She was in the film production of Cleopatra but now she's sick and being sent away to await her lover in this obscure coastal village. There, blue-eyed Pasquale Tursi is carrying on his father's legacy, imagining his forgotten village and his dead father's hotel will someday attain the tourism fame of the Cinque Terre.

As Dee Moray settles in at Pasquale's hotel, the oddly named Hotel Adequate View (yes, there's a story there), I was convinced I would love this book. Walters paints a beautiful picture of a quiet village still dominated by fishermen and memories of the war. Pasquale's earnest attempts to cater to his beautiful American visitor and the tenuous friendship the two form are enchanting. The village and the story has a nice bit of quirk that complements the sweetness of Dee and Pasquale's fumbling relationship, such as it is.

Then along comes Richard Burton and the fictional Michael Deane, erstwhile film producer and all-around self-involved douchebag, accompanied by a jump in time to modern day California and the whole thing came off the rails for me. Walters departs from his promising beginning to introduce us to Deane and a pack of less than lovable losers including Deane's development assistant, Claire, who came to work looking for the next big film and ended up working on some garbage reality show called Hookbook. There's Shane, who has a tattoo of a made-up Bible passage that he spent his whole life living by until it failed him catastrophically, until he heads to Hollywood to pitch his terrible movie idea to Michael Deane. Finally there's Pat Bender, washed-up frontman of a band everybody forgot, a screw-up who lost the good things in his life to drugs and bad decisions.
This is all to say that I loved the flashbacks to 1962 Italy and ensuing hijinks, but grinding through the present day with Walter's over-quirked, generally unpleasant West Coast set who are alternately trying to get ahead and right past wrongs left me cold. All that said, Walter does manage to bring things full circle in a way that tugged gently at the heartstrings as one character starts to redeem himself and in so doing sets a lot of wrongs right.

Walter is undoubtedly an excellent writer. Beautiful Ruins is packed with perfect description that captures Italy's incredible coast and quaint villages. The dialogue is fast-moving and realistic. Even the structure of the story itself is admirable, peeling itself off in layers to reveal what Dee and Pasquale and Richard Burton, and even the unlikeable Michael Deane started in 1962. Walter's biggest problem is his characters. At times their exaggerated qualities chip away at their humanity and leave caricatures in their places, which makes Beautiful Ruins a little hollow on the inside.
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LibraryThing member mountie9
The Good Stuff

A truly unique and imaginative tale, the Donner party film pitch alone is worth the price of the book
Beautifully written, this author has a true gift for characterization
I won't lie, I started reading and was worried that I was going to hate it, but it slowly grew on me. This story in a lesser novelists hands would have failed miserably, but Walters has the chops to make it work. This is the type of story I usually do not enjoy, but let me tell you it really is truly beautiful and wise so give it a chance
Honest and real, heartrendingly sad, yet hopeful and beautiful
Nostalgic - you really feel you are part of 1962
Richard Burton and Liz Taylor are intertwined throughout the story
Pasquale is such a richly written and oh so very real and delightful character
Darkly funny at the right moments
Makes you think about your life and what you want/need
Enjoyed how all of the stories came together in a smooth unforced way

The Not So Good Stuff

Drags a wee bit
Depressing at times
I personally felt there were too many voices for the story, but that is just my opinion - not a judgement against the story

Favorite Quotes/Passages

"He didn't think of Heaven as a smiling place. If mortal sinners went to Hell and venal sinners like himself went to Purgatory, then Heaven had to be full of no one but saints, priests, nuns and baptized babies who died before they had a chance to do anything wrong."

"In that doomed final month of the marriage - in what felt like a live autopsy of his manhood - Saundra tried to make him feel "better" by insisting it wasn't entirely his fault; he was part of a ruined generation of young men coddled by their parents-by their mothers especially - raised on unearned self-esteem, in a bubble of over-affection, in a sad incubator of phony achievement."

"Of course I'd arranged abortions before. I worked in publicity. It was practically on the business card. But this was Italy. Catholic Italy 1962. At that time it would have been easier to get a moon rock."

Who Should/Shouldn't Read

Not for those looking for a fast paced exciting read, this is one you savor my friends
Fabulous for those looking for something just a little bit different

3.75 Dewey's

I received this from William Morrow in exchange for an honest review
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LibraryThing member TheLostEntwife
There are not that many books out there by contemporary male authors that inspire the same feeling of nostalgia and peace I get when I finish a book by Jess Walter. He's two for two now - first with The Financial Lives of the Poets and now with Beautiful Ruins.

Beautiful Ruins may be a lovely title name for this book, but even more so it describes the absolute gorgeous nature of the story held inside the gorgeous cover. It has all the right ingredients: dying starlette, Italy, tortured Italian young man, humorous side characters with their own touch of agony, movies, musicians, mistakes - some made right and some not, war, grief, love, death, life... the list goes on.

The story skips between four different perspectives. The perspective of Pasquale, a young/old Italian man who dreamed of building a tennis court where a tennis court does not belong and of promoting a hotel with only an "adequate view"; Claire, a young woman who is searching for something to fulfill her dreams and whose connection to Michael Deane is one that will push her in that direction; Alvin, with his stories of war and his nobility and humor; and finally Dee Moray and Pat - each with tortured stories of their own, each on a quest to find peace and happiness.

I did not have to worry about trying to find the energy to pick this book up once I started to read it - I had to try to find the willpower to put it down in order to do the mundane things of life - you know, eat, sleep, drink. I devoured each story as it was fed to me - pictures of the cliffs of Italy filled my mind, images of Richard Burton and Liz Taylor. I heard the psst hey of each sprinkler hit and cried when Pasquale does something that made me believe in humanity again.

This book is a masterpiece - and I've been on a reading streak these past few weeks of really good books. This is one of them. Jess Walter is an author to keep an eye on - he's only getting better.
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, is a unique look at the paths one’s life will take throughout its course, resolving itself in ways never imagined. Pasquale is a young man forced to take up the family business of running a small hotel in an even smaller, dying coastal village. Dee is a young actress facing a mortal illness. Claire is a Hollywood assistant looking to reconcile her dream job with reality. Pat is a human tornado, bent on completely destroying his life even while others provide him ample opportunity to improve himself. Individually, their stories are interesting, but together, their stories highlight how complex this life really is, and how nothing ever ends up as one may hope.

The remarkable thing about Beautiful Ruins is the lack of a main character. While the story weaves itself around multiple characters, no one person can be labeled the hero or the heroine. For some, this is due to a lack of page time; a reader does not get the chance to really know the character as their story is but a brief aside to the larger story. For others, they appear in many scenes but their story is not more or less important than anyone else’s. If anything, these characters highlight how interwoven life really is and how much influence even the briefest of acquaintances can bestow upon another. Beautiful Ruins is not about Pasquale any more than it is about Dee or Michael or even Pat. Their lives intersect and were influenced by all of the others in such a way that to remove even one would bring the entire structure of the novel to a screeching halt. It is the very best type of an ensemble of characters who can only exist because of the others.

To this end, Mr. Walter highlights the importance of his ensemble cast through the multiple jumps in time and location. Even as he is forcing the reader to pay close attention to and get involved in one person’s story, he abruptly shifts focus to another decade and another character. While it keeps a reader’s interest, it can also become a frustrating plot device for those who just want to see how it all ends. Eventually, a reader will get there and see the story threads combine into one, but it takes a meandering route and patience before that occurs. Along the way, he pulls enough of the various strings to keep the story moving forward while weaving them into and out of each other as the story dictates. As a reader begins a new section and a new jump in the story, one is never quite certain which of the characters will appear at any given moment.

Along with the multiple characters is the idea of multiple themes. One cannot rightly say that Beautiful Ruins is about redemption or forgiveness or satisfaction or closure or even love. It is about all of those things, and yet it is not. Just as life is a journey, one that is unique to the individual, the lessons learned throughout the story are just as unique to the characters. Beautiful Ruins provides the momentum for readers to take a quiet moment for reflection, as each reader will draw from the story his or her own lessons to apply in real life.

Beautiful Ruins is a quiet novel without a major swell in drama or tension. Its stories unfold carefully and slowly, and while there are various surprise twists of the plot, the placidity of the novel remains. There is a dream-like quality to the story that allows a reader, nay almost forces a reader, to remain a remote and distant observer of the action. The characters are enjoyable, and the story itself is tremendously interesting. However, the lack of emotional involvement on the part of a reader makes it a pleasant read rather than an outstanding one. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword as a reader cannot help but feel that there should be more emotional connection, that the story should linger foremost in readers’ minds, and that to be called a pleasant story is not quite what Mr. Walter was hoping to achieve. One can see the potential and sadly acknowledge that the entire story did not quite make it. It is not a novel that will haunt a reader for days or even for weeks but is a perfect summer novel – enjoyable but non-involving, an easy read that moves quickly.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to HarperCollins for my review copy!
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LibraryThing member ethel55
An apt title for a beautiful book. Walter shows us the stories of several lives, moving back and forth in time from 1962 Italy to a more recent time, in Hollywood. Pasquale Tursi, owner of the so aptly named Adequate View Hotel owns the only hotel in the small coastal town of Porto Vergogna. There, a writer comes to write every year, fisherman head out to sea everyday to compete with commercial fishing vessels, signs and veterans of WWII remain and one day in 1962, an American actress appears. What could have become bogged down with too much emotion flowed easily as the chapters described different parts of the players' stories. Just a great book for a summer read.

"Stories are people. I'm a story, you're a story...your father is a story. Our stories go in every direction, but sometimes, if we're lucky, our stories join into one, and for awhile, we're less alone." Writer Alvis Bender to Pasquale Tursi.
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LibraryThing member bookchickdi
Two years ago I read and loved Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of Poets, about a married man who leaves his job as financial writer to start a website just as the economic crisis hits. He doesn't know how he can support his family, keep his children in Catholic school, and take care of his father who has dementia and has moved in with them.

I was so excited to see that he had a new book out, Beautiful Ruins, which is as beautiful on the inside as the cover art is on the outside. This time, Walters takes us from 1962 in a small town on the coast of Italy, where a young Pasquale has lost his father and now runs the small family hotel that has few guests.

A beautiful, fragile American actress, Dee Moray ends up at his hotel and Pasquale feels protective of her and her situation. She confides in him that she is very sick, and Pasquale goes to Rome to confront the production assistant of the movie she is working on, which is the infamous Cleopatra, starring Richard Burton and Liz Taylor.

Richard Burton has always been a larger-than-life figure, and Walters conjures him in all his glory. Pasquale's adventure and relationship with the drunken, egomanical Burton is fascinating.

Fast forward to today, and the production assistant, Michael Deane, is now a has-been movie producer who has a successful reality television show. His assistant, Claire, is at a crossroads professionally and personally, and ready to leave her job unless she finds a movie worthy of her efforts.

Walters toggles back and forth between time frames and his stories and manages to keep both story lines interesting to the reader as we wait to see how these characters will ultimately intersect. When he finally brings both story lines together, it is brilliantly done.

Every character, and there are many, are fully fleshed out and distinct, and unlike some novels, the reader is able to keep them all straight in her mind. I find that to be the work of an accomplished writer.

Interspersed in the book are a chapter of a book written by an American writer who stayed every year at Pasquale's hotel, a synopsis of a movie written by a young man about a survivor of the infamous Donner party, and a chapter from Michael Dean's memoir. All were fascinating.

I was in awe of how Walters brought everything together in the end. The last chapter, titled Beautiful Ruins, brings the reader up-to-date on the characters in the novel, such a satisfying conclusion. Deane says that "This is a love story, but really what isn't?"

Beautiful Ruins may just be as close to perfection as I have ever read. It's like a beautiful package that you keep unwrapping, only to find more pretty wrapping, until you get to the last box and realize that the perfect gift is inside. The writing, the characters, the way it is crafted- it's the total package. This is a book I can imagine many writers will read and be envious that they didn't write it.
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LibraryThing member john.cooper
A near-perfect novel, full of humor and pathos and bitterness and hope--the classic novelistic themes brought to a modern setting. Frank O'Connor said that a novel is "something that’s built around the character of time, the nature of time, and the effects that time has on events and characters...a sense of continuing life," and Beautiful Ruins, which follows its major characters from their youth in 1962 to somewhere around 2008, meets that now-dated standard. Even the characters too young to have been included in this sweep of time are intimately affected by events before their birth. At the end, everything connects in ways that are right but perhaps could not have been anticipated. There is a sense that, for all the pain and regret that circumstances and poor decisions can lead to over a lifetime, somehow all has been well, and all is well, and all will be well, at that higher perspective from which all our parts are only bit parts.

Which is not to say that this book is in any way "heavy." It's funny, and a good read. It's ingeniously constructed, each chapter shifting in perspective, time, and place, yet fitting in with the others in a jigsaw puzzle that comes together in a neat way. The characters are vivid, and I somehow liked even the ones unworthy of being liked. If you are a fan of classic movies, you may take particular pleasure in the journey--some of the early action takes place during the making of "Cleopatra," a movie I found not nearly as bad as its reputation. In short--this is a book for thinking people that there's no need to think over. Enjoy.
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LibraryThing member carebear10712

First, let me say the audiobook version of this book was amazing. It's probably the best book I have ever listened to.

As for the rest of the book - it was excellent. I found myself looking forward to my car rides so I could listen to more of it. {What a refreshing change from both The Orphan Master's Son and The Round House, where some days I switched to music, I just didn't want to listen anymore}. Jess Walter weaves so many characters into this novel. There were times in the middle of the novel that a new character would be introduced (or their story would be explained), and I would feel frustrated because I wanted to hear more about the characters we already knew. But by the end of that chapter, I wanted more of that character as well.

He did a beautiful job of telling each character's story; one told as a play, two told as chapters of a novel, another side story told as a pitch for a movie. Somehow all the characters and all the stories came together in a beautiful way. And the language and the writing of this novel was beautiful as well (I wanted to add so much of the writing to my quotes section on goodreads).

The only thing keeping this from 5 stars was the several moments I had of frustration with the new characters halfway through the novel. It all came together in the end but there was a lot of gear switching in the story, sometimes too much.
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LibraryThing member lansum
The character we meet first in the book is not a major character--which may throw some readers. The character just sets a certain tone and gives us an overall point of view about how the main characters fit together. There are many, many stories wrapped up in this novel. Most of them are beautiful, and some of them are very funny. It's a very creative piece of writing, and helps to see your own life as a story and parts of others stories. Beautiful Ruins is a very satisfying novel, with intriguing themes. Don't wait for a trip to the beach to read it.… (more)
LibraryThing member porch_reader
In 1962, Pasquale Tursi is trying to run the Hotel Adequate View in the small village of Porto Vergogna, Italy. When an American actress arrives by boat, Pasquale falls in love, and in his sweet, earnest manner, he learns her story and tries to help her. Fifty years later, Pasquale shows up in Hollywood looking for the actress. The events that have transpired in the meantime are gradually revealed in a series of vignettes with no regard for chronological order. In other hands, this could be confusing. But Jess Walter uses the technique to propel the story forward and to keep the reader in suspense. She also uses theme to hold the divergent stories together. This is a book in which there are no perfect people and certainly no perfect relationships. Whether in 1962 or 2012, the characters are still trying to figure out how to share their lives with one another. Even my favorite, Pasquale – dear, sweet Pasquale – sees his own past mirrored in the distress of the American actress. But despite all of the threads that are woven together, the stories come together in a satisfying end that is neither too neat nor too dark.… (more)
LibraryThing member Samchan
Beautiful Ruins never took off for me. Its biggest flaw was how boredom-inducing it was. I can’t really think of much else to say, which reflects how little impact it had on me. It was so bland that I can’t even muster up enough energy to catalogue all the ways in which it didn’t work. Instead, I’ll list a few random points:

--The treatment of one of the main themes, the life that one has versus the life that one could’ve had, was rather one-note. It was illustrated over and over again with each character, but without any additional insight. What’s the point? The storytelling felt amateurish and lightweight, which wouldn’t be notable (some books are beach reads and I just accept them for what they are) had I not expected more from Jess Walter based off of his last effort, The Financial Lives of Poets.

--All of the characters aside from Dee and Pasquale were meaningless. Their stories added nothing save for more boredom. I could’ve gone along with Michael Deane’s story without too much fuss; I could’ve even tolerated (barely) Pat’s story without much complaint; but to also have Claire and that screenwriter crammed in there was absolutely unnecessary and uninteresting, killing what little patience I had for the book.

--Weaving back and forth in time and between different characters is fine, but when you’re just shifting from one boring story to another boring story, then the reading experience just becomes even more tedious.
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LibraryThing member jnavia
I absolutely loved this book. I listened to the audiobook version, which was narrated by Edoardo Ballerini. Ballerini does an incredible job with the voices and accents. His reading is perfect.

The novel is wonderful. I laughed out loud often but also couldn't help my eyes leaking at times, too, not only at sad parts but just because of Jess Walter's portrayal of life, of so many different kinds of love, of hopes and dreams, some dreams dashed, some fulfilled, some contentedly abandoned.

All the characters are great, and I love that Walter lets us know, in the final chapter, what is going on with everyone, even the seemingly minor characters.

This is probably the best novel I've listened to in years. I recommend it highly, especially the audiobook.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Delightful. Beneath the frothy, steamed-milk, surface of this novel broods a dark Italian espresso of love and regret and more love. Of course love leads to complications, not least of which are the children of passion, excised, hidden, shunned, or, accepted, nurtured, and acknowledged. Between Florence, Rome, and an isolated port along the Italian Riviera, a complicated tangle of parallel plots develop in 1962 during the chaotic filming of the Richard Burton / Liz Taylor spectacular, Cleopatra. The choices made by each character in this fulcrum of decision – the naïve but fruitful neophyte actress, Dee Moray; the failed novelist, Alvis Bender; the sombre yet hopeful minor hotelier, Pasquale Tursi – create ripples spreading through the years, coming ashore again more than forty years later.

Jess Walter is masterful in his delicately comic prose, which, even when bounding through a zany scene, holds deep veins of poignancy and honesty. Time after time, I found myself marvelling at Walter’s touch: entirely impressive, without calling attention to itself. Even when he undertakes chapters in alternate modes – there is a short story chapter, a movie pitch chapter, a self-important autobiography from an unsavoury Hollywood producer, a play (all of these ostensibly with different “authors”) – Walter perfectly integrates these modes into the story as a whole; this is never mere display and technical bravura. Moreover, Beautiful Ruins is as singular in its writing as Walter’s previous two novels, The Zero and The Financial Lives of the Poets. When each new work raises the bar of respect for an author, you can only hope his career flourishes long into the future.

Perhaps our lives, and the stories of our lives, cannot hope to amount to more in the end than beautiful ruins. If so, then we could do worse than hope for a bit of Jess Walter’s humane insight into the wonderful process of our ruination. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member LMayNev
Nice story that takes you from Italy in 1962 to present day Hollywood. Kind of felt too much was crammed into the end, like the author wanted to tell you absolutely everything about each character, but didn't have much time to write.
LibraryThing member LynnB
The previous reviewers have done a great job of summarising the story, so I won't. And, I agree with the rave reviews! This is a beautiful story -- so romantic, but never "sappy". Well devleoped characters who are fragile and real, a deep story about finding happiness when what you want to do and what you should do are the same thing.… (more)
LibraryThing member ken1952
I guess I'm in the minority about this novel. It was difficult to get through. Perhaps it was not my time to read it. Or perhaps it was because my mother smuggled me in to see WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF when I was just a lad and Richard Burton scared the bejeesus out of me.
LibraryThing member Brianna_H
A dishy, comical, sad, thoughtful, and nuanced novel with a hilarious cameo by Richard Burton. The story switches back and forth from Italy during the filming of Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor and Burton to modern day Los Angeles. Beautiful Ruins grabs you from the very beginning and keeps you enthralled with each flip of a page.… (more)
LibraryThing member laurakenna
Didn't really like it until half-way through the book, but then loved it.
LibraryThing member bachaney
It's 1962 and an American film actress shows up in a small Italian seaside town believing that she's dying. She has an interaction with the young, disillusioned proprietor of the only hotel in town. A few days together launches a series of events that play out over the next 50 years. Choices are made and the paths of lives are decided because of a few fateful days.

I really liked Beautiful Ruins. The story is told in a non-linear fashion, with the author jumping between different time periods in the related characters lives to slowly unfold her story. While at first this made the story feel slow to me, over time I think it helped to build my interest in the story and my relationship with the characters. By the end, I couldn't put this novel down. It's hard to say much more about the plot without spoiling anything, but if you are a fan of literary fiction, this is definitely a novel worth checking out!
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LibraryThing member annie.michelle
this is a love story that goes back and forth in time spanning continents and generations.
the story unfolds in 1962 with Pasquale, a dreamer and inn keeper on a tiny crevice of land
on the beautiful Italian coastline.
A beautiful dying woman dressed in white and holding on to her sun hat is sailing on the
Ligurian sea toward Pasquale In a tiny boat, forever changing his life.
Cut to present day Hollywood we meet a man way past his prime, an addicted to plastic surgery
Producer Desperately seeking a hit.
How this aging producer, his exasperated assistant Claire, the actor Richard Burton who sets
this whole story in motion, a wacky wanna be TV hit maker, A rock and roll singer, Pasquale
the Innkeeper along with his hilarious friends and family and the very beautiful dying starlet
all come together in a full of fun, Hollywood glamour, bittersweet family drama way is a book
meant to be read and enjoyed.
… (more)
LibraryThing member ccayne
Overrated. This was fluffier than I expected or wanted. Too much Hollywood influence.




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