Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Monday, January 6, 2014

Title: Beautiful Ruins Author: Jess Walter
Pages: 337
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: June 12, 2012 (hardcover); April 2, 2013 (paperback)

This book was on many "best of" lists in 2012...  I loved Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets, so that drew me to this as well. But with a fairly vague synopsis and it being so different than Financial Lives, I kept putting it off. But I should have known better! I hate to say the same thing so many other bloggers said, but it really IS so hard to explain, and it really IS about so many things, but I'll do my best.

The main storyline, if you can narrow it down, follows a young man, Pasquale, in 1962 Porto Vergogna, Italy, as he tries to turn his family's hotel, The Hotel Adequate View, into a tourist destination. Then there's the American actress who turns up to stay at his hotel while filming a movie (Cleopatra with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, yes the real one) in Rome. There's the American man who goes to Italy every year in an attempt to get away and write a book. Then present day, there's a famous movie producer, Michael Deane and his frustrated assistant, Claire. There's Shane, a spoiled script writer trying to pitch his movie. There's a middle aged man whose life has gone pretty much nowhere after being in various bands who then starts a comedy music show. Each of these characters is all connected, and you don't have to wait until the end to find out how. Within the first third of the book at least you know how most are connected. You may not like all the characters, but they are all so interesting and in some instances, scandalous.

It's not just the characters and their stories that illuminate Beautiful Ruins though. Not only is the writing intelligent (and infused with subtle humor), but the storytelling methods were so clever. Though there's mostly traditional narration, there's also a chapter from a book, part of a memoir, a pitched movie script, a play, and I could be forgetting something. Each of these was interesting, moved the story forward, and added so much. Then there's also the themes running through the book of people living their lives trying to accomplish their dreams and not always quite getting there - but maybe finding themselves along the way. It's also about how the people in our lives affect us. I loved the following quotes.

"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." -pg 218

All we have is the story we tell. Everything we do, every decision we make, our strength, weakness, motivation, history, and character -- what we believe -- none of it is real; it's all part of the story we tell. But here's the thing: it's our goddamned story!" -pg 266

Another interesting thing was the way Walters incorporated the real life scandals that took place during the filming of the movie, Cleopatra. He even made Richard Burton a character in the book!

Anyway, loved Beautiful Ruins! It's still in my head after several days, and now I can't wait to read more of Walter's books!

Rating: 5 out of 5


Mary (Bookfan) said...

I liked it - listened to the audiobook. Wonderful narrator!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'm just pissed I didn't listen to the audio. I hear it was one of the best of that year. I read it on my Kindle over a year ago and it is still in my head.

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

Everyone has raved about this but the summary just doesn't grab me. I might have to try it anyway. I heard the audio is amazing so maybe I'll go that route.

Anita LeBeau said...

I've had the audio in my Audible library for over a year. The Narrator has quite and accent, so once I get past that I hope I'll enjoy the book. I don't tend to love what everyone else does, and then I feel sort of shallow and lost...ha ha.

Juju at Tales of said...

Wow. Great review and quote. You've convinced me I need to try this sooner rather than later.

Jennifer said...

I have to say I didn't love Financial Lives. I didn't even get through the whole thing.

But this sounds like quite an interesting book. You did a great job giving me a better idea of what the book is actually about. I love seemingly disjointed narratives like this that ultimately make connections between people who seem completely disconnected.

I'll have to give this one a chance somewhere down the road.

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