[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.

  • The parallel lives really caught my attention. I’m not sure if it’s my type of book but I’m really interested because of the way you talk about it. I kind of want to give it a try.

  • Ooh, this sounds so intriguing, and I’m so glad it worked for you! my reading tastes are all over the place at the moment, and this looks like a novel that will pique my interest.

  • Wow, this looks SO fascinating!! Not a fan of historical fiction per se, but I love books and shows and movies and what have you with interconnected lives 😀

  • Gorgeous review Joy. So glad that you loved this book so much 🙂 It’s seems a bit sad, maybe, so not for me, haha 🙂 But you do make it sound interesting too. <3 Yay 🙂 And ohh, I hope the movie will end up being awesome too 🙂

  • I recently read this one and was surprised at how much I loved it. This book appealed to me mainly because of the setting. Books set in Italy are my favorite! It did not disappoint for sure. It was so sweet too and I loved the characters. I had no idea they were making a movie out of it. That’s awesome!

  • Maja (The Nocturnal Library)

    I love these rich, well researched novels! Sometimes I desperately need them just to fill my heart and soul. I’ve never even heard of this one, but wow, do I want to read it. Wonderful review!

  • I will watch the movie…when it comes out!

  • Melliane

    It looks interesting, not a story we usually find. why not

  • This book has been on my wishlist for a while and after reading your review it’s been moved to the top of the list. I like books with parallel time lines and the Cleopatra aspect of this one sounds great. Also.. judging this book by this cover and this one is gorgeous.

  • Everyone has been loving this one! The cover is so pretty, too.

  • You make this sound so amazing! I’ve seen this book before, but never thought to pick it up and examine it further. But because of your excellent review, I will have to check it out. Thanks Joy!

  • I’ve actually wanted to read this before, I remember putting it on my TBR back in 2012 or 2013, whenever it came out I suppose. I think I was mainly drawn to the cover, but I also loved the idea of parallel lives, seeing what could have happened vs. what didn’t. So I’m glad to see that you loved it Joy! I didn’t know they were making a movie out of it!

  • shootingstarsmag

    Sounds like a really well done novel. I’ve seen it around but never been that interested. Hopefully it will make a good film!


  • I have this book on my tbr but have yet to get to it. I’m glad you enjoyed it and I didn’t know there was a movie in the works. I think I may need to get to it sooner than I had planned. 🙂 Brilly review.

  • I didn’t know this one is going to become a movie, but if it is, then I am definitely going to want to try and read this one before it is released. It sounds like this one is a beautiful book which just stole your breath away. I want to try it now :3

  • kindlemom1

    I know if you are excited about a story and give it five stars, then it is worth getting and trying too. 😉 Wonderful review for this!

  • Oh my goodness, this sounds breathtaking Joy. How have I not heard of it before and especially with a movie in production! I love lavish historical fiction, there’s something incredibly indulgent about it. It sounds a little like six degrees of separation. The fine thread how our lives are all woven together through experience, friends or lovers. I’m going to grab an extra copy for my mother, she’d adore this one too. Incredible review Joy <3

  • ChristinaBookAddict

    So glad you enjoyed this one as much as me. I absolutely loved it and thought his writing was brilliant. I had no idea it was coming to the big screen…..that will definitely be awesome. Great review!

  • Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    Ooh, I love this cover and its setting in Italy, not to mention plot, are so enticing. I’ll have to check this one out for sure! Thanks for putting it on my radar, Joy! 🙂

  • This book sounds really interesting and I love the cover! Wonderful review!

  • I love the cover of this book so much. I’m glad that the inside was just as great.
    I didn’t realize there was so much drama surrounding the Cleopatra movie, but I just went ahead and read it and woah! What a mess!
    The writing here sounds lovely. I’ll have to look into this book for sure, especially if there’s a movie.
    Great review, Joy.