[657]: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

11447921 Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Stand Alone
Harper | June 12th, 2012
Adult Fiction | Historical
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars


The story begins in 1962. 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 spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion—along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow.

Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.


Beautiful Ruins opens in a small coastal town in Italy with an innkeeper who dreams of great things for his tiny hotel and his equally small town. One day, while he was busy creating a sandy beach for his potential guests to sunbathe on, a mysterious American actress in need of rest checks in. He finds out that this actress is sick and maybe even dying. Her name is Dee Moray; she just finished filming her small role in an Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton saga, Cleopatra. Dee Moray’s beauty and elegance captured the attention of Pasquale Tursi. Over time, he becomes her champion. He falls in love but he knew Dee Moray is never going to love him the way he loves her. He’s no stranger to heartbreaks and so he would remain forever in love with her until the end of time.

This is their story; decades of parallel lives connected only through their history of what ifs and could’ve been’s. It may seem pointless, as most of these missed-connections stories go, but it’s not. The beauty of this book lies in the stories of characters in the past and the present. Imbued with the rich landscape of old Italy and Hollywood’s retro glamour, Beautiful Ruins was the perfect escapist dream.

There’d been a lot of tales about the disaster that was Cleopatra. At the time of production, it was plagued with over budget issues and cantankerous lead actors. Michael Deane, a Hollywood lackey was sent to Italy to save the movie somehow. He did so by taking advantage of Elizabeth Taylor’s inability to be loyal to her current beau. At the time, she’s being branded as a Jezebel for leaving her husband and stealing Eddie Fisher from Debbie Reynolds. While filming Cleopatra, she has an affair with Richard Burton. And the American people are not looking too kindly on her. So Michael Deane, in a burst of inspiration, decided that capitalize on the very thing that the world was hating her for. His role in Dee Moray’s life is important, and by association, in Pasquale’s life.

Decades into the present, all their lives will collide in the most tender and more often, heartbreaking way possible. I love untangling all the threads in this novel. It was expansive, but not too complicated. The writing is exquisite in such a way that it’s not pretending to be something it’s not; simple and every bit as beautiful as the stories it convey. The setting is so perfect – dramatic, outlandish at times, and romantic. Even the short stint in Europe that showed the novel’s dark side evoked the right emotions even for a moment. The thing about Beautiful Ruins is that it’s tough to relate to the characters sometimes. And it’s not because they’re so unlikable. It’s because the story moved so fast that readers aren’t given the chance to get comfortable. But I enjoyed it immensely. Because the thing about this book is that you’re not supposed to savour it. You’re supposed to take a step back and see the big picture. After the reader connected all the dots and tied all the knots the way they’re supposed to be done, the end result is pure magnificence. I’m glad I got to read it and with the movie now in the works, I’m excited to see it in the big screen.