By: Jess Walter
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
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.
This book has been on my radar ever since it was released a few years ago. The premise of this nove sounds fantastic, not to mention it’s set in Italy; I’ve never been to Cinque Terre and the places facing the Ligurian Sea so that was an added appeal. For some reason though it took me a long while to get around to picking up this book :3 Seemed like the perfect summer read though, hence why I chose to read it recently 🙂
OMG you guys, why did it take me so long to pick up this novel? I absolutely loved it *hearts in eyes* The interweave between the past and the present, between characters (some of whom may seem pretty random–well, one felt rather random, really–but actually do tie in with the other characters’ stories), was done in a way that wasn’t confusing and that was totally engaging. I suppose naturally I was more interested in the 1962 storyline and what happend then that led to the present day storyline where the elderly Italian man shows up looking for the mysterious American actress, but both past and present storylines were really interesting, and like I mentioned kept my full attention throughout.
I was quite attached to all of the characters, and cared about their predicaments and how their stories turned out. All of these characters face moments of triumph and despair, struggling to find meaning in their lives and working to achieve their dreams, fulfil their ambitions, and fight to re-establish themselves and find themselves again when they find that they’ve lost their dreams or life has taken a turn for them. And those fragile moments where their paths converge and they find themselves in tune with each other were just utterly wonderful, I may have had a happy little weep.
So yeah, on a related note, the thematic elements of this novel were just as wonderful. The thoughts about life and waiting for their lives to begin absolutely resonated, and the meditation on life choices and the twists and turns that life leads us were interesting. I also enjoyed the elements about the creative process, whether it be acting or writing, and then on the side how Hollywood and the celebrity culture worked. The meditations on love and the way relationships operate, happen or not happen, were also very interesting to read and weave into these characters’ journeys.
Also, omg Richard Burton xD
Beautiful Ruins was overall a fantastic summer read with all of the elements I enjoy in a novel: a European setting, mysterious circumstances in the past echoing and interweaving into the present, interestin character arcs and thematic elements to ponder on. And did I mention how much I love the writing? I added so many great quotes from this book into my quotes journal. I cannot recommend this book enough, it was absolutely beautiful and precious <3
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