Saturday, November 17, 2012

Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters

Beautiful Ruins
Author: Jess Walters
Published: June 12, 2012
Genre: fiction
Hardcover: 337 pages
Source: borrowed from the library

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (from GoodReads): 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.

My Thoughts: I won't lie, I was mostly attracted to this book because of the cover (seriously, it's gorgeous!) After I read the synopsis, I figured I would give it a try, but it would probably end up in the pile of DNFs where the books that I choose only for their pretty cover end up. I was pleasantly surprised by this novel and by it's author, Jesse Walters. Spanning several decades and encompassing a cast of characters who are all searching for what will make them whole, Walters tells the tale of love lost, passions ignored, and people and circumstances falling together and bringing total strangers closer than they thought possible. I won't give a recap of the story (I think my synopsis above sums it up pretty well), I can tell you that this book is more than the Italian coastline and Hollywood, more about love and loss, more than any of the mundane things that we find in novels now. Walters as constructed a novel which causes you to think and examine the path that your own life as taken.
While I tend to stay away from putting quotes into my reviews (I worry that something might be a spoiler for someone), there is no way that I can review this book and not list at least one piece of beautiful prose that Walters has written down:
"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 have never thought how true that is until I stumbled upon that quote in the book. I just had to close it and sit there for a few minutes, really contemplating what that means to me in my life. There are so many of those quotes throughout the novel that I could go on and on, listing all of the wonderful quotes that I found.
If there was a downside for this novel for me, it's that it took so long to read. It's one of those books that makes you think so much, that it's hard to bust through it in two to four days. But it was definitely worth it and I would consider this one of the best books of the year. If you are looking for something literary to finish out your year, I would highly recommend this book. It's a wonderful story and one that I feel like would resonate in some way with every person that read it.


  1. I really liked this one too, it was a beautiful story and so well written.

  2. Oh good, I love a book that makes me think and what a great quote too! Thanks for your review.

    I am glad to say I recently purchased Beautiful Ruins. Now to fit it in....

  3. Sounds like a beautiful story. I love when a book surprises me by being better than I expect.