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Beautiful Ruins

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2012)
"The best novel of the year." — Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

A #1 New York Times bestseller, this “absolute masterpiece” (Richard Russo) is the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962 and resurfaces fifty years later in Hollywood. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to the back lots of contemporary Hollywood, this is a dazzling, yet deeply human roller coaster of a novel.

The acclaimed author of the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets returns with his funniest, most romantic, and most purely enjoyable novel yet. Hailed by critics and loved by readers of literary and historical fiction, Beautiful Ruins is gloriously inventive and constantly surprising—a story of flawed yet fascinating people navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

337 pages, Hardcover

First published June 12, 2012

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About the author

Jess Walter

43 books2,150 followers
Jess Walter is the author of five novels and one nonfiction book. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages and his essays, short fiction, criticism and journalism have been widely published, in Details, Playboy, Newsweek, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe among many others.

Walter also writes screenplays and was the co-author of Christopher Darden’s 1996 bestseller In Contempt. He lives with his wife Anne and children, Brooklyn, Ava and Alec in his childhood home of Spokane, Washington.

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5 stars
36,387 (20%)
4 stars
68,385 (39%)
3 stars
51,892 (29%)
2 stars
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1 star
4,099 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 16,723 reviews
Profile Image for Diane Yannick.
569 reviews762 followers
March 6, 2013
This book started with such promise. Pasquale was a great character and I would have enjoyed following his story. The Italian setting was lush and Dee Moray's story was interesting until it got crushed by all the random characters and story lines. Richard Burton and Liz Taylor? Really? Just seemed like a mishmash of people who were trying too hard to convey messages.

I could not wait to finish this book and escape from these people who make life so damned complicated for themselves and others. For me, the constant changing of past and present times was often disjointed. I did not see anything beautiful, only the ruins of a hyperactive plot.

Yet there were a few lines that had meaning to me:
"Pasqo, the smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be."
"All we have is the story we tell."
"No one gets to tell you what your life means!"
"And even if they don't find what they're looking for, isn't it enough to be out walking together in the sunlight?"

Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,346 followers
June 25, 2013
Preconcetti sventato ancora una volta!

Whoever designed the cover of this novel and came up with its title (because I refuse to believe either of these disasters were Jess Walter’s doing) must have had one thing in mind: make this book appear to be as much of a chick-lit beach read as possible. And yes, while there are certainly elements of the chick-lit beach read here—some tender relationships, a sprinkle of sentimentality, a romance or twelve—it would be highly unfair to categorize it as so, because this book smashes that label to pieces and even transcends whichever other label one might try to apply to it. Beat that, labels!

Walter is a skilled writer. For such a short book with its surprisingly large cast of characters, including (believe it or not) Richard Burton, Walter manages to do draw out each of them fully and beautifully, flaws and all. Traversing from post-war Italy to modern-day Hollywood and back again, the plot is expertly constructed. Though it does, at times, meander into predictable territory, it never stays there long, and the care with which Walter crafts the relationships among his characters—whether it be between a mother and her son, a young man and his comrade, or a widow and her never-forgotten flame—is a care reminiscent of that shown by Krauss in The History of Love. In fact, I think both novels succeed on a similar level (besides shattering my preconceptions), which is to address the often competing themes of desire and responsibility, imagining the possibilities of a life-that-could-have-been while ultimately reconciling it with the life-that-is.

But also, yes. It is a love story:
And the robot loves his master, alien loves his saucer, Superman loves Lois, Lex, and Lana, Luke loves Leia (till he finds out she’s his sister), and the exorcist loves the demon even as he leaps out the window with it, in full soulful embrace, as Leo loves Kate and they both love the sinking ship, and the shark—God, the shark loves to eat, which is what the mafioso loves, too—eating and money and Paulie and omertà—the way the cowboy loves his horse, loves the corseted girl behind the piano bar, and sometimes loves the other cowboy, as the vampire loves night and neck, and the zombie—don’t even start with the zombie, sentimental fool; has anyone ever been more lovesick than a zombie, that pale, dull metaphor for love, all animal craving and lurching, outstretched arms, his very existence a sonnet about how much he wants those brains? This, too, is a love story.
And also, yes. Parts of it do take place on the Italian Riviera.

cinque terre

Get over it.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,977 reviews1,988 followers
February 14, 2019
Pearl Ruled

Rating: 2.5* of five (p88)

Story of romantic love at first sight ranging from 1962 to the present, and involving a staggering amount of cluttered narrative and facile, stereotypical characters.

The writing is perfectly serviceable, though without any distinguishing characteristics. It's like those MFA bores all are. I put this down three hours ago, and already I had to look up the main characters' names: Pasquale and Dee Moray.

In 10 minutes, I won't remember either one.

That is a big problem to have with a 337-page book.

PS: note to the review police...I don't care that you think I shouldn't have rated or reviewed the book because I didn't read the whole thing. Don't message me privately, and don't leave comments, as I will simply delete them.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews532 followers
May 14, 2020
Heart-Stabbing Elaboration of Beauty

I kept this book on my shelf untouched for nearly 4 years after I couldn't make it past page 20. In April, with the spring weather, I decided to dust off its pretty jacket and read it. So many have reviewed this novel in the time since I bought this that I doubt many will even read this review. But ... I just feel compelled to add...

I was wowed, nearly speechless by the adductively alluring setting, ruins welling within me even now, months after my farewell. I realize the book's faults, but they didn't take away from its gorgeous cinematic qualities.
In one novel, the author contrasts:
A brilliant, breathtaking, blazing, Botticellian beauty of love and nature and flesh along the chromatic Italian Ligurian Sea coastline and on the movie set of Cleopatra in Rome, together with an appreciation for just being alive, under nights of sparkling stars,


A sadness submerging the spiritual hole left by the reminder that in life we must choose paths (this or that, not this and that), yet we have but one life to live but so much love from which to give.

Italian Ruins near Ligurian Sea

For some reason, my emotional Achilles heel is the idea of a love between two people as a living organism, floating after the two have split and even subsequent to the dissipation by degrees of each's unilateral love for the other. These spirits of lost love are the saddest ghosts to me, once so hopeful and gorgeous and vibrant, kissed into intimate knolls and notched in its lovers' souls, yet now doomed to obscurity then eternal demise unless someone captures the evergreen of its glory in art, which I guess is perhaps what Jess Walter means by using the symbolic beautiful ruins and fading painting therein.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,859 followers
November 20, 2012
I got a table at the Rainbow Room
I told my wife I'd be home soon
Big ships are approaching the docks
I got my hi-fi boom box
Mashed potatoes in cellophane
I see my life going down the drain
Hold me baby and don't let go
Pretty girls help to soften the blow

Palm trees; the flat broke disease
And LA has got me on my knees
I am the bluest of blues
Every day a different way to lose

The Go Getter
I'll be the Go Getter
That's my plan
That's who I am
The Go Getter
Yeah the Go Getter

The Go Getter The Black Keys

I have a complicated relationship with social satire. I give the vulgar and violent (thinking here of South Park and Chuck Palahniuk) a wide berth –– but the bizarre sensibilities of Monty Python, the gentle humor of Garrison Keillor or the politician-skewering tirades of Stewart and Colbert tickle me. I have the hardest time appreciating modern literary satire. When I commit to spending a few days with a book, I want story. Good, old-fashioned, beginning-middle-end story, not cynical commentary wrapped in wit.

Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is the marriage of gentle social satire with old-fashioned story-telling; a marriage that gives life to a delightfully original and brave novel. Like any skilled satirist, Walter creates a world that is slightly off-kilter – not bizarre, not unbelievable- just a sense that something, somehow is slightly amiss. The reader is always a bit wobbly – guaranteeing she will take nothing for granted in the narrative.

The title Beautiful Ruins refers to one of novel’s central themes: the inevitable crumbling of youth, of promise, of dreams. There are so many beautiful ruins in this story, which takes place in 1962 Italy and present-day Hollywood, with a bit of contemporary Spokane and Edinburgh and 1970’s Seattle tossed in, not to forget a slight detour to the Sierra Nevada mountains in the 1850’s.

Among the ruins we find the village of Porto Vergogna and the dreams of its most ambitious resident, hotel owner Pasquale Tursi; the actress Dee Moray, who comes to Porto Vergogna in 1962 to convalesce; Alvis Bender, a war veteran turned writer who can’t write past his first chapter; the legendary movie producer Michael Deane, who has made a beautiful ruin of his face with Botox and plastic surgery; Deane’s assistant Claire Silver, whose love life and career represent everything she hates about sell-out, superficial Los Angeles; former Seattle grunge rocker Pat Bender, a mid-life shamble of addiction and self-loathing; and aspiring screenwriter Shane Wheeler, who delivers one of the book’s most surprising chapters, a pitch for a movie about that great ruin of the American frontier spirit: the doomed Donner party.

That’s a heckuva lot of characters (and there are more, far more!) and this is a heckuva lot of story. Yet it works, in all its madcap and poignant twists, thanks to Walter’s crisp writing and efficient plotting. You fall in love with these characters – Walter gives them such soul, your heart is constantly tugged. This is a book you could read in the space of a Sunday, not because it’s simple, but because you simply don’t want to put it down. I waver and withhold a fifth star because the Hollywood scenes feel a bit thin and fantastical to me - there's that satire twitch of mine - and I couldn't quite connect with Claire, who holds a pivotal role, until she, well, I don't want to spoil things.

If you don’t care for Hollywood endings, you might feel cheated by Walter’s wrap-up of his intertwined story lines. Me? I’m a sucker for spoonful of sugar to make the medicine of satire go down.

Richard Burton makes a brilliantly comic cameo; it is in fact this famous actor for whom the book is titled, after Louis Menard’s piece in The New Yorker: “[Dick] Cavett’s four great interviews with Richard Burton were done in 1980….Burton, fifty-four at the time, and already a beautiful ruin, was mesmerizing.”

Jess Walter uses his characters and their exploits to poke firmly but not cruelly at the bubbles of pop culture, our adoration of celebrity and beauty and the fickle nature of the film and publishing industries. Not to mention the fickle and fleeting nature of love. He shows the folly of great expectations and the beautiful ruins of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. It is a charming literary mosaic.

Profile Image for switterbug (Betsey).
845 reviews806 followers
April 3, 2012
After looking up various images of the 1963 movie, CLEOPATRA, the film that critically bombed but was lit up by the scandal of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, I saw a coastline of Italy that looked exactly like the cover of this book. It is a most felicitous cover that captures the mood and time that this novel begins, in 1962. A parochial innkeeper, Pasquali Tursi, lives in a rocky coastline village called Porto Vergogna (Port of Shame), a place the size of a thumb between two mountains, and referred to as "the whore's crack."

One day, Pasquali is stunned by the vision of a young, striking, blonde American actress, Dee Moray, from the movie set, and baffled why she is staying at his inn. He learns that she is sick, and waiting for the famous publicity agent, Michael Deane, to take her to Switzerland for treatment. She stays at the ramshackle inn for a few days. Walter depicts their friendship with exquisite wistfulness and beauty. Her Italian and his English are as rocky as the cliffs surrounding the village, but a meeting of the souls eclipses language. On an outing together, they climb the cliffs high above the Ligurian Sea so that Pasquali can show Dee five frescoes painted on the wall inside a machine-gun pillbox bunker left over from World War II. At this scene, I almost wept. These frescoes become the most poignant visual metaphor of the book.

Alvis Bender, an American writer with writer's block, traumatized from his experience in the war, stays at the inn annually, and has left his one devastating chapter in the drawer in Dee's room. It is an astonishing chapter, one of the highlights of the novel. It is a treat to witness the variety of stories that make up Walter's one larger story.

The novel alternates non-linearly from 1962 to contemporary time in Hollywood, Calfornia, where Claire Silver, a scholar of film archives, works for the now legendary film producer Michael Deane. Claire is on the cusp of quitting her job and leaving her boyfriend, and is suffering from several regrets. She is braced for another insipid film pitch when she receives a surprising visitor.

In this pensive, reflective, aesthetically pleasing, and geographically stunning story, we meet a disparate cast of characters that are ultimately linked. There's also a washed-up rock musician, a frustrated screenwriter, and a cameo appearance by a certain alcoholic son of a Welsh coal miner--a brief but rollicking insertion of a true-to-life legend that is so spectacular and credible, it almost outshines the rest of the book. But the rest of the novel is exquisite, so that the scenes in repose combine with eye-popping chapters, and give the book a sublime balance.

The story has an undulating, timeless presence. Patience is rewarded, as it ascends toward its peak with a languid pace. The outcome may be a little too neat for some readers, but it is a minor flaw that is incidental to the mature and subtle elegance rendered on every page. As time passes, it continues to echo with its alluring characters, resonating themes, and delicate visual beauty and symmetry.
Profile Image for CLM.
2,695 reviews184 followers
July 27, 2013
Some authors can juggle intertwined characters and a disjointed assembly of characters in a way that starts making sense, allowing them to pull all the characters and plot together effortlessly at the end (Kate Atkinson, among others). I did not feel that Jess Walter had that skill; the characters did not appeal to me; and if I hadn't been reading for my book group, I probably would not have bothered to finish.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews33 followers
November 2, 2020
Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins is a novel by Jess Walter, first published in 2012. The novel is a social satire which explores human nature and satirizing the Hollywood culture, that is at the center of the novel. Similarly, the novel includes significant leaps of time, and geography, with much of the early parts of the novel, set in an Italian coastal hotel, but later parts are set in Hollywood; Edinburgh; Seattle; Florence, Italy; Portland, Ore.; Truckee, Calif.; and Sandpoint, Idaho.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و نهم ماه آگوست سال 2019میلادی

عنوان: ‏‫ویرانه‌ های زیبا؛ نویسنده: جس والتر‏‫؛ مترجم: فرناز کامیار؛ ویراستار شهین خاصی؛ تهران‫ کتاب کوله پشتی‏‫، 1398؛ در 439ص؛ شابک 9786004611985؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21م‬

عنوان: ویرانه ‌های زیبا؛ نویسنده: جس والتر؛ مترجم: سیدمیثم فدائی؛ تهران: نفیر، ‏‫1397؛ در 451ص؛ شابک 9786009835386؛‬

ساختن فیلم «کلئوپاترا» در «ایتالیا»، و رابطه ی پنهانی «ریچارد برتون» هوسباز، با هنرپیشه ای بنام «دبرا مور»، در کنار عشق آتشینش به «الیزابت تیلور»، آغازگر داستانی میشود، بنام «ویرانه های زیبا»؛ عاشقانه ای به اصالت «ایتالیا» و جذابیت «هالیوود»؛

نقل از متن: «اسکورس ازم پرسید: مایکل بهم بگو چی از کلئوپاترا میدونی؛ عجب سئوال احمقانه ای! همه ی آدمای این شهر، در مورد این فیلم میدونستن؛ بیشتر اینکه چطوری داشت، فاکس رو زنده زنده قورت میداد؛ اینکه این ایده، به مدت بیست سال، به دست فراموشی سپرده شده بود، تا اینکه سال 1958میلادی، والتر وانگر، تهیه کنندگیش رو به عهده گرفت، و وقتی متوجه ی رابطه ی زنش (جوان بنت) با مشاورش (جنینگز لنگ) شد (که البته سوء تفاهمی بیش نبود!)، به اون مرد شلیک کرد، و اینطوری شد، که روبن مامولیان، تهیه کنندگی کلئوپاترا رو تقبل کرد، و یه قرارداد دو میلیون دلاری با (جوآن کالینز) بست؛ کالینزی که به اندازه (دان ناتز) عقل و شعور داشت! بعد استودیو اونو بیرون انداخت، و رفت سراغ (الیزابت تیلور)، بزرگترین ستاره ی دنیا، که بعد از دزدیدن (ادی فیشر) از (دبی رینولدز)، شهرتش به قهقرا رفته بود؛ اون دهه ی سی رو هم رد کرده بود، و این ازدواج چهارمش بود، ولی تو این وضعیت بی ثباتی شغلی، چیکار کرد؟ یک میلیون دلار و ده درصد فیلم رو خواست؛ هیچکی تا اون موقع دستمزد نیم میلیونی از بازی تو فیلم نگرفته بود، اما این خانم یه میلیون میخواست!» پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 11/08/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews900 followers
February 22, 2013
In 2006, Janet Maslin of the NY Times said, “Jess Walter is a ridiculously talented writer.” That’s been a blurb on every book he’s written since. I can see why, especially since I happen to agree. This, his most recent novel, showcases these talents well. The writing is effortless, the plot is engaging, the characters are memorable, and it’s full of fun and insight. The social commentary is awfully good, too, meaning I approve of the targets he pokes at.

The story begins in the early 1960’s in a remote fishing village just beyond Italy’s fashionable Cinque Terre. Young Pasquale, fresh out of college, has come back home to run his family’s small hotel. A beautiful American actress named Dee arrives (mistakenly?) as a guest. She was originally in Rome for the filming of Cleopatra. Though Pasquale’s English is not great, and he’s also a bit shy, his earnest good intent makes an impression. But she’s sick (dying?). We then cut to contemporary America – Hollywood – the epicenter of both glitz and schlock. Claire is a film-loving assistant at Michael Deane’s studio. Deane, a cheeser of some repute, began his career as a production assistant for Cleopatra, later became a big-time producer, then fell off the pace awhile before getting his groove back via reality TV. (Walter’s skewering of this broadcast idiocy is something all but the lowest of brows can appreciate.) Anyway, Claire is about to give up when two visitors show up. One is a young writer hoping to pitch his sensationally bleak movie idea and the other is an older Italian gentleman there to see Michael.

So that’s how it sets up. We then get the back story that brings us up to the present. And what a story it is. One of the characters is an American writer (a car salesman, really) who visits Pasquale’s hotel annually with the intention of writing a book, but in practice to drink wine. He did manage a chapter, though, and the truth is it’s very good. We also witness some touching scenes where Pasquale and Dee connect, if only briefly, at soul level. Then there was the whole Cleopatra circus. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (or Lizard as I like to think of them in this era of Brangelina) took some managing, and Deane was the man tasked with the job. The Welshman was a handful with his unslakable thirsts. His cameo role was one of the highlights of the book.

Fast-forwarding a few decades we meet Pat who is all about wine, women and song. At least the song part had at one time provided an income. He’s in rather dire straits when we meet him, though. Naturally, his story connects with the others. Back in Hollywood, agendas are identified and actions are taken. Now, in the time-honored tradition of keeping important plot points to one’s self, I hereby button my lip.

I’ve been a Jess Walter fan for several years now. He’s one of those writers who’s found the sweet spot between flourishes and flow. He never appears to be trying too hard while giving us bright, shiny nuggets in an entertaining way. Richard Russo identified this talent early in Walter’s career, which is meaningful since Russo is another writer I’d put in that category. My expectations for a Walter book are high. In fact, I may have rounded down from 4.5 stars to 4 because I know his capabilities. The shortcoming in this work, I felt, was in his character development. He tended to trade depth for breadth. With as many as 8 POV characters, it would have been nice digging deeper into a select few. But hey, let’s end this on a positive note. This is a very readable book — by a ridiculously talented writer.
Profile Image for B the BookAddict.
300 reviews667 followers
July 17, 2023
Jess Walter and I have not seen eye to eye on another of his novels but after reading Beautiful Ruins, we have definitely kissed and made up. Actually, we may well be 'besties'. He may have 'beautifully ruined' me for the next dozen or so books that I read; this, his latest novel, could easily become my reading yardstick. It is thought-provoking, serious, insouciant and amusing; it strolls across your consciousness with a lazy charm. Each character is lovingly crafted; Jess Walter knows what he is doing and he does it well.

Beginning the story in early 1960s in a small Italian coastal village is Pasquale, the owner of his family's small hotel. Unexpectedly, there is a guest; a beautiful American actress, Dee Moray who is cast as the handmaiden in the film Cleopatra. Dee has come to the hotel to rest because, rumour has it, she's dying. Also in this time frame is Michael Deane, a movie producer, the actor Richard Burton and a WW11 soldier Alvis Bender who is writing his first novel. Fast forward to the new millennium in America; Claire is the assistant to Michael Deane, now a movie/tv producer extraordinaire and currently producing’ reality tv studio. Claire has decided to resign but first she has one more appointment; Shane, who is pitching his very bleak movie premise which involves cannibalism. Claire has an unscheduled visitor that afternoon; an elderly Italian man who is looking for Michael. There is also Pat, a wise-cracking American comedic musician, in London after an attempted intervention by his family, struggling to have one last crack at fame during a fringe festival.

The story contains three additional vehicles of prose; the first chapter of Bender's novel, Shane's movie pitch which is quite a haunting story, and the first rejected chapter of Michael Deane's memoir. All are important to the main story. How Walter ties all these threads together is testament to his prowess as a author. You have this sparse information, now I insist you read this superlative novel to savour Walter's brilliance for yourself.

Pasquale said. “Why you come here?”

Bender pondered the wine in his hand. “A writer needs four things to achieve greatness: desire, disappointment, and the sea.”

“That’s only three.”

Alvis finished his wine. “You have to do disappointment twice.”

 photo Richard-Burton_zpsf5f7db28.jpg
Richard Burton ' already a beautiful ruin ' as described in the 1980 Dick Cavett interviews with the actor. Walter says “it was as if that phrase 'beautiful ruin' rose off the page.”

In Beautiful Ruins, there is perfect, persuasive prose, delicious, decadent detail and seamless, satisfying storytelling, relentlessly riveting the reader from go to whoa.

Short stories want to grow up to be this novel, other fictions glare in uneasy jealousy and epics long to be edited down to this 337 page word perfect novel.

Beautiful Ruins goes straight onto my 'bury me with this book' bookshelf. MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. 5★
Profile Image for Melki.
6,039 reviews2,388 followers
September 21, 2014
Last week, I was dreading seeing my dental hygenist. Not just for the usual reasons - (I brush & floss 3 times a day, yet she has to scrape and scrape with her little implements, and it makes me feel like an unclean swine!) - but, because we always talk about books. I knew she would ask about what I was currently reading, and I had no clue how to describe the magic of Beautiful Ruins in between all that scraping and suctioning.

Even now when my mouth is NOT crammed full of tubes and metal hooks...I'm not sure how to describe it.

In 1962, Dee Moray, an aspiring actress whose mysterious illness has gotten her booted from the set of "Cleopatra," arrives at a tiny Italian coastal village. There she meets Pasquale Tursi, a young man who dreams of turning his town into a resort - an American getaway, parasols on the rocky shore, camera shutters snapping, Kennedys everywhere! Pasquale is waiting for life to come and find him.

Jumping to "recently" in Hollywood, we meet Michael Deane, a has-been film producer, a scythe on the wall of a tractor plant. He's been reduced to producing reality TV fare like "Rich MILF, Poor MILF" and "Paranoid Palace" - we take mental patients off their meds, put them in a house with hidden cameras... His assistant, Claire, spends her days listening to pitches for films that will never be made, and sifting shit for the corn.

Going back to the sixties, we'll also be spending time with an author who's spent years perfecting just the first chapter of his book, and with Richard Burton himself, a heavy-drinking, hard-living, actress-dipper, who burns to tell the real, inside story of Burton/Taylor and their giant turd of a movie.

These great characters are twirled together in a book that also manages to contain part of a memoir, a film synopsis about the Donner Party, the first chapter of another book, and a play - all leading to a final chapter that neatly sums up EVERY storyline, and is one of the most perfect things I've ever read.

The best way to describe this entrancing book? Steal some more lines from its pages!
These are completely out of context - but still wonderful:

Life picks up speed like a boulder rolling down a hill, easy and natural and comfortable, and yet beyond control somehow; it all happens so fast, you wake a young man and at lunch are middle-aged and by dinner you can imagine your own death.
So don't inhabit the vast, empty plateau where most people live, between boredom and contentment.

...embrace the sweet lovely mess that is real life.

What a sweet lovely mess it is!
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,438 followers
July 8, 2012
A favorable review today in The New York Times said Jess Walter’s new book is like a film script, but to my way of thinking it is more like Walter as a one-man performance artist, who suddenly pulls all kinds of horns, drums, bells and other props out of his bottomless pockets to illustrate a point, to make us laugh, to break into our attention and to declare: “are we entirely mad?” His work is brilliantly interpreted and performed by Edoardo Ballerini on audio, and to hear the thick and heavy tones of Richard Burton declaiming in a small outboard floating off the coast of Italy is to feel a stab of remembered joy.

Fifteen years from conception to production, this is Walter at his crazy, mad, funny, piercing best, for he skewers us and our lives by reflecting popular culture back at ourselves, but showers us with tender mercies at the end. The novel covers a time frame from the early sixties through at least the last decade, and covers at least as many personalities as years. But what a wild and happy party it is, with all the usual suspects: love, greed, envy, pride, lust, infidelity…and, I’ll say it again, finally love. “It’s a love story,” we hear as Hollywood producer Michael Deane pitches his latest to the studio executives at the end of the book. And I guess it always is, in the end, for that is all that really matters.

Take this trip, and if you have eschewed listening on audio for whatever reason, throw aside your inhibitions and do yourself a favor. This is performance art, and may be listened to with great effect. We have a nubile Hollywood actress with a bit part in an Elizabeth Taylor film, a Hollywood producer, a small Italian coastal village, a young man pitching a story…you get the idea. There is lots going on but it always with the greatest clarity that we can see that life ”isn’t always easy” and that we usually find our hapless ways despite, or perhaps because of, our questionable choices.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,131 followers
August 21, 2016
3.5 Stars

This is the type of book that determines your next vacation.

Sometimes its not the plot that makes a book memorable but beautiful descriptions of a place and it's inhabitants that can charm and dazzle the reader.

A story of greed, treachery and romance set on a rocky patch of Italian coastline in 1962.

The stroy is told in chapters that go back and forth in time and I was lucky enough to have been given a copy of this as a kris Kringle bookclub gift and I had it on audible as well. The switching between timeframes was pretty confusing at times and the vast amount of quirky characters make this book a little difficult to follow. But I did love the writing and the amazing sense of time and place. A lovely story with vivid characters and beautiful images of romantic Italian Coastlines that made this book come alive.

I loved the character of Pasquale and the chapters set in Italy were the hightlight of Beautiful Ruins for me.

While I always perfer to read a book the narration by Edoardo Ballerini was excellent and I really enjoyed swithing back and forth between my hardcopy and audible.

Profile Image for Nicole R.
986 reviews
February 19, 2016
I respectfully disagree with everyone who thinks this is a unique and phenomenal book. It is horrible, seriously horrible. I got 50% of the way through before I realized that this book was degrading my quality of life. This is only the third book in my entire life I have given up on, and I wish I would have never even picked it up.

I truly liked the premise! A beautiful American finds herself on an isolated Italian island in the 1960's. There is one hotel - The Adequate View - nestled in the sharp, rocky hills that is run by a man who dreams for more. There is a air of mystery around this American actress who recently left the filming of Cleopatra. That is where the interesting parts end. We then travel to Hollywood to hear about a completely asinine cast of characters in the present including the now ancient producer of Cleopatra, his assistant who I hated for no reason other than she sucks, and some guy who thought he was the shit for most of his life before he realized he wasn't and then couldn't deal.

Oh, but we're not done. The person that really pushed me over the edge was Pat. Oh, Pat. The 45 year old, washed up, glimpse of fame musician who feels entitled to continue to follow his dream (which is less about music and is more about drugs and women) even though he also sucks. His endless inner monologues on the purpose of life and how he is going to change made me want to gag. Get over yourself, a$$hole. Grow up. Get a job. Take a shower.

Oh, and we're STILL not done! Interspersed with all of these characters are random little stories about some author who used to vacation at The Adequate View, a soldier in WWII, and the 1960's drama of Liz Taylor's love life. Don't care. Could have been interesting but wasn't. Don't care.

Not a single character is even remotely likable. The writing is far from great. The story is confusing and jumps around in a completely illogical manner. Many reviews say that the stories come together in a surprising twist and the ending is interesting. Well, Mr. Walter, you have to start pulling some stuff together before page 200. I don't see what you would do in the last 150 pages that would redeem this book and make me think anything about it other than, "ugh."

Moving on.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,538 followers
July 25, 2015
I was delighted by the humor and touching sentimentality in this tale about second chances to repair broken dreams. For me, it was a fun mash-up of a madcap romantic comedy of the Hollywood type and a serious deflation of the same scenario. I would follow happily along for long stretches, confident that the characters silly troubles would be resolved by the end. Then I would get bowled over with the serious and sometimes brutal truths that emerge along the way.

At the start, the action alternates between a group of disappointed characters in a backwater Italian seacoast town in 1962 and a set of people in contemporary Hollywood dreaming of pulling off the next big successful movie. For the first setting, enter stage left is Pasquale. He manages the only hotel (“Hotel Adequate View”) in a tiny cliff town where he has returned from an academic life (and failing love relationship) in Florence to take care of his ailing mother after his father died. His dream of turning this run-down community of old fishing families, Porto Vergogne (“Port Shame”) into an attractive resort is obviously foolish. But the arrival of a lone American actress one day, Dee Moray, electrifies his hopes. Unfortunately, she is ill and seems to have been dumped there for some reason by a dastardly lover associated with the movie she had a part in being filmed in Rome (details withheld as spoilers). In a lovely set of exchanges and soul sharing, Pasquale falls for her, and soon he takes noble action to advocate for her cause with those who have wronged her.

Back in present times 50 years later, we have the pleasure of the company of Claire, who works as a development assistant to a once highly successful Hollywood producer, Michael Deane. She hitched her wagon to him as a better dream than her unrewarding academic studies of film. But after a dry period with only a stupid reality TV show and Zombie B-movie, she gives herself one more day of listening to film pitches to discover a worthy prospect for a quality film or else she will jump ship for a different job. She is also on the verge of dumping her porn-addicted boyfriend, the source of a number of belly laughs for me. At the last minute, two men show up. One is a young guy, Shane, who wants to sell his implausible idea for a tragic movie about the Donner Party (remember the tale of starvation and cannibalism among pioneers caught in a blizzard crossing the Rockies?). The other man is an elderly Italian who wants to see Deane about the whereabouts of an actress Claire never heard of. Surprisingly, when called to the scene, Deane is interested both in producing the movie and wants to drop everything to help the Italian find the missing actress.

The rest of the book works to bring the two sets of characters together to make a single story. There are about a dozen characters, each with their own story related to ruined dreams, but as they all work toward some form of healing solution, their stories blend in a satisfying illusion of unity.

One of the most poignant side stories concerns the only other regular foreign guest, Alvis. He is an alcoholic American who served in Italy during World War 2 and comes to secluded Porto Vergogne to work on a novel to make sense of that experience. A passage from the one chapter he has managed write captures a bit of his sad state:

God this life is a cold brittle thing. And yet it’s all there is. That night I settled into my mummy bag, no longer myself but a played-out husk, a shell.

Years passed and I found myself still a husk, still in that moment, still in the day my war ended, the day I realized, as all survivors must, that being alive isn’t the same thing as living.

Though he works as a car dealer in America, he once worked as a college lit teacher and thus had the skills to mystify Pasquale with this exchange when when as a boy he asked Alvis why he came to Italy to write:

“Stories are nations, empires. They can last as long as ancient Rome or as short as the Third Reich. Story-nations rise and decline. …”

Pasquale grinned. “And if I ask if stories are empires, you’ll say .—“

“Stories are people … your father is a story. Our stories go in every direction, but sometimes, if we’re lucky, our stories join into one, and for awhile, we’re less alone.”

“But you never answered the question,” Pasquale said. “Why you come here.”

Bender pondered the wine in his hand. “A writer needs four things to achieve greatness, Pasquale: desire, disappointment, and the sea.”

“That’s only three.”

Alvis finished his wine. “You have to do disappointment twice.”

Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 3 books782 followers
April 10, 2021
The premise of this book was excellent, but the characters were incredibly stereotyped and the plot was an absolute mess.

Also, I don't know why Walters had to call Richard Burton 'Richard Burton' throughout the book. There was only one character called Richard, so there was no need to hammer home the surname quite like he did. It sounds like a minor issue but, truly, you'll see what I mean if you read the book.

I wouldn't, though, if I were you.
Profile Image for kate.
682 reviews
December 16, 2012
I am not going to recommend you read this because you will judge me for it long before you tire of the written tics, redundancy, and the repeated use of characters' full names.

If you were to read this, explicitly violating my not-recommendation and expunging my role in the whole thing, the last quarter of the book might be the best, save for the last chapter which is one of those annoying scrolling summaries at the end of a film of all of the characters' happy endings. A very wrong note. The author should have taken a lesson from his own Lydia.

I don't know if "it was okay" (2 stars) or if I actually "liked it" (3 stars). Tough call, Goodreads.

(Full disclosure: this was my first book finished after reading Margaret Atwood, so, you know, selection effects/comparison bias/ridiculously high bar/doomed.)
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,483 reviews7,779 followers
February 9, 2015
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

Beautiful Ruins was the third book in my library Winter Reading Challenge. I don't know wtf is going on, but I'm having a hell of a time finding a winner. Curse you, library!!!!

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Nah, not really. In all seriousness, if I weren't such a voracious reader I would have been able to find plenty of good books on the recommendation list . . . but since I've already read Eleanor & Park and The Lover's Dictionary and High Fidelity, etc., etc., etc. I was down to some slim pickings.

When I read the synopsis of (yet another) back and forth timeline story that begins with a chance encounter between an American actress and an Italian innkeeper back in the 60s which then bounces to present day and the arrival of an elderly Italian man at a movie studio, my mind automatically wanted this story . . .

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Things didn't work out quite as planned. Instead I ended up with not only the story of the innkeep and the actress, but also the story of the schmarmy movie producer and his assistant and the unemployed screenwriter and and a womanizing has-been musician and RICHARD BURTON?!?!?!?!?. I love ensemble casts, but they are VERY hard to write successfully. Beautiful Ruins had plenty of characters, but unfortunately (for me, at least) they all lacked depth (or I flat-out didn't give a rip about them).

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This is one of those books that I'm glad I'm reviewing, because in six months (or maybe even three since I'm an idiot) my memory will fail me and I'll see that beautiful cover and blurb and think "Oh, I should read that." It's that forgettable.

However, my problem with Beautiful Ruins may indeed be just that. MY PROBLEM. I encourage everyone to read Melki's review in order to get a second opinion on this one. The things that bothered me the most (the over-the-top movie pitch, the excerpt from the book which was never finished, the play, etc.) all detracted from my enjoyment, but worked to enhance hers.

This is one instance where I also think a film version might surpass the book. There weren't enough pages to invest me in all of the character's lives, but on screen it could be a completely different story. And Jess Walter definitely knows how to use pretty words . . .

"Weren't movies his generation's faith anyway - its true religion? Wasn't the theater our temple, the one place we enter separately but emerge from two hours later together, with the same experience, same guided emotions, same moral? A million schools taught ten million curricula, a million churches featured ten thousand sects with a billion sermons - but the same movie showed in every mall in the country. And we all saw it That summer, the one you'll never forget, every movie house beamed the same set of thematic and narrative images - the same Avatar, same Harry Potter, same Fast and the Furious, flickering pictures stitched in our minds that replaced our own memories, archetypal stories that became our shared history, that taught us what to expect from life, that defined our values. What was that but a religion?"

Oh, and because when you Google "Letters to Juliet .gifs" THIS pops up . . .

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You're welcome.
Profile Image for Gary  the Bookworm.
130 reviews128 followers
March 19, 2013

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Beautiful Ruins is a revelation. It contains shimmering prose and a life-affirming message. Spanning 50 years and two continents, it asks some tough questions about how to define success and happiness in our media-driven, celebrity-obsessed culture. It artfully encompasses such disparate events as the filming of Cleopatra in the 1960's and the tragedy of the Donner Party over 100 years earlier. It skewers the modern entertainment industry for its preoccupation with ratings and admonishes us to ignore this chatter when we chart our own lives. Reading it is like eating an artichoke. As you peel away the leaves, stand-ins for the myriad tribulations confronting the characters, the anticipation builds. By the time Walter wraps it all up, in a masterful final chapter that both updates and recapitulates his many story threads, you feel sated and satisfied.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,719 followers
June 30, 2013
What a marvelous novel! I thought this would be a fun and fast read, but there were surprising depths to this book that is part historical fiction, part insider-Hollywood, part redemption and part love story.

The book opens on a tiny fishing village in Italy in 1962. An American actress comes to a small hotel to recuperate from an illness. The hotel owner, Pasquale, falls for her beauty and wants to help her. He will slowly learn her secrets and why she was sent to his village.

The flashback portions alternate with chapters set in present-day Hollywood, involving a movie producer, his assistant and a writer. Pasquale, who is now an old man, visits the producer and wants to know what happened to the actress. Will the producer finally make amends for his earlier misdeeds?

The final chapters of the book neatly tie all of the story lines together. The writing is gorgeous and I frequently reread sections to fully appreciate them. This is one of the best novels I've read this year.
Profile Image for Jaclyn.
765 reviews34 followers
August 8, 2012
A couple weeks ago a friend told me that Jess Walter's "Beautiful Ruins" was the book of the summer. I walked straight to Barnes & Noble after we finished lunch to buy it. The man at the checkout counter said that all sorts of people had been buying this book. After all, it combines Italy in the 1960s with Hollywood then and now. It deals with love, disappointed expectations, responsibilities, movie magic, tragedy - the whole gamut of human drama.

And yet, it's not love for me. There wasn't that soft glow of a movie camera telling the story. Instead it was a glaring look at human frailty and failings. There were beautiful details and uncanny characterization. But just the same way that I want some of the girls to wake up on Mad Men and demand that their men treat them better, I could not get past the crass and the sad realities. Sometimes I want my stories to just be stories. I don't want to feel like these disappointments could have really happened.

All that said, I think I would still recommend it if you are an avid reader or you love the movies. I told my grandmother it was a must read because she lived through the drama that was Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. And the way that this book comes together at the end is surprisingly fulfilling after what was at times a very frustrating read. How's that for a contradictory review?!

Happy reading.
Profile Image for Julie G.
897 reviews2,929 followers
September 6, 2015
The cover makes it look like a schmaltzy mid-1940s romance novel, a review on the back dubs it a "beach read."

No, no, no, no, no.

I have no idea of this book's promotion or reception at its publication in 2012, but, I can tell you, it was not given enough attention.

A few bits and pieces of messy plot lines and some failure to create full-bodied characters of all the key players keep me from giving it a full five star review, but, believe me, it comes close.

This is a page turner, filled with the gorgeous Italian coastline as a backdrop, characters you love to hate or just love, and philosophical wanderings that will make you dog ear your copy and make the used book stores reject it. Not like you'd ever want to return it.

So much reflection here. . . on the meaning of life, on our obsession with fame, on our fears that if we haven't achieved fame, we haven't lived our lives.

Yet, as Pasquale of The Hotel Adequate View teaches us. . . it takes neither fame nor a quiet life to create a beautiful ruin.

And, as Michael Deane teaches us. . . We want what we want.

We are who we are.
Profile Image for Jennifer Masterson.
200 reviews1,169 followers
November 16, 2014
I know I'm in the minority here and late for the party but I didn't like Beautiful Ruins. I actually couldn't finish it. I found it boring and I didn't like any of the characters.
Profile Image for john Adams.
58 reviews17 followers
October 27, 2012
Beautiful Ruins

I bought this book because I heard the author on NPR and he was this super nerdy guy who talked like an economist and who said things like, “When you compare the decline of cultures, for example the decline of Rome or Imperial Britain, one can make a few general conclusion, such as, wealth shifts to the top and the masses are consciously placated...” etc etc. Then I heard the book was fiction and my reaction was: “Whaaatt!?! Fiction from this guy, called Beautiful Ruins, I gotta buy this book.” I supposed I hoped for something apocolyptic, something along the line of The Road. And so when I started reading and when I discovered it is an unrequited love story about a Hollywood actress and an Italian teenager, I was a little taken back. Beautiful Ruins is a well-written story about failure. Everybody fails. They fail at love. They fail at work. They fail at success. Nobody wins. The book is its strongest at capturing failure twenty/thirty years down the road, when the person who failed has moved on, lived a life, looks back, and judges their choices. The different characters capture these moments at different times. There is a young, hopeful scriptwriter who sells his movie, but only because it is so awful it will never get made. The main protagonist, a young hollywood actress, is shoveled out of Cleopatra because she is pregnant. Once kicked out of the movie she falls truly, romantically in love to an Italian boy with whom life’s circumstances make love impossible. The book twists the lives of many different characters and interlocks their moments of failure and their futures. It’s sad--but not that sad--and poignant. Trying to figure what to make of this book, especially in context of the interview I heard on NPR, I began to view the story in its entirerty as an attempt to capture the decline of America through Hollywood, the placaters. Beautiful Ruins casts Hollywood as the pinnacle, the place to be. But when seen up close and personal it’s a miserable den of facelifts and drug dependence where success is measured, not in artistic accomplishments, but dollars and where genius is subjugated to wet T-shirts and nipple slips. Beautiful Ruins asks the audience to think about our culture and what it says about where we are going. It doesn’t give any answers; it’s not that simple. It’s more of a you-be-the-judge type of situation. (If you are wondering about my judgement I could sit here and talk about it for days, but it would boil something like: “We are not unilaterally declining. It depends on what you choose to focus...” Nice, measured, and uncomitall. [catch me at another time and I’ll proclaim, with a stamped fist, that “domesday is on the horizon”].)

P.S. Thanks to a friend who admitted to me that she, and not just me mom, read my goodreads. Thanks. It’s good to know that I am not drunken idiot...all the time.
Profile Image for Mark.
1,108 reviews139 followers
June 26, 2021
I would never have suspected that a novel about a small town actress, a decrepit Italian hotel, an ambitious writer, a crass Hollywood producer and Richard Burton would have me turning to grab this book at every spare opportunity, and allow me to stretch my lunch hour without guilt to finish the book.

In the early 60s, Pasquale has taken over his family's completely out of date hotel in a village so small that tourist boats never come there -- except one day, when one does, and deposits a beautiful American actress, Dee Moray, on the pier. She takes a room in the hotel, and seems to be very ill, but waiting for the arrival of someone she loves, and of course, Pasquale is smitten.

This story is interwoven with a modern-day tale of ambitious Hollywood production assistant Claire, who works for an aging but still ambitious producer, who will end up having played a critical role in the story of the young actress from 50 years before. Into her orbit comes a young writer who is eager to pitch a movie plot about the Donner Party -- and an aging Pasquale, on a search to find the woman who captured his heart so many years ago.

And when Michael Deane, the famous producer, decides to pay an old debt (or is that what his real motivation is?) and help Pasquale find Dee, all the threads will be woven together into a story of completion and redemption.

And how does Richard Burton work into all this? You'll have to pick up this beautifully written, funny, mulitfaceted book yourself to find out.

An absolutely riveting work.
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews709 followers
March 4, 2013
Wonderful, book that keeps one totally engaged from the beginning to the turning of the last page. There was not a dull or uninteresting section in the entire three hundred plus pages. I loved the intertwining of the characters and their stories as they played out their lives against the backdrop of Hollywood during the Cleopatra days of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, to the tiny Italian town where so much of the action of the life of this book took place. The characters were wonderful, so human, so needy, and so wanting, yet so very glorious in their realization that life can be and often is unrelenting in its ability to give one joy and happiness at a moment's notice.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to find a few hours of realization that life weaves at times a convoluted picture and it is how we work out the strands of that picture that makes one's life so totally bearable and ultimately often times wonderful. I have to remember this author and pick up some more of his novels.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
July 23, 2013
3.5 I had picked this up and started reading this twice before and just wasn't in the mood for it. After several wonderful reviews from my trusty goodread friends I picked it up again and this time I found it enjoyable. Never expected the sardonic humor that it held and I just absolutely adored Pasquale. He is one of those witty characters, with flaws, and oh so human that I love to read about. I did like the first part much more than the middle. In the beginning everything was being set up and each of the characters were waiting for something to happen. The middle I felt stalled somewhat, though the reader did get a taste of the ridiculousness that Hollywood can be as well as the frustration and excess of being part of it. The end resolved almost everything in one way or another. All in all I liked this and am glad that I picked it up again.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,220 followers
March 7, 2016
You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes…
The characters in Beautiful Ruins have unrealistic dreams. A satirised Hollywood hovers over the novel. Hollywood the crucible of unrealistic dreams. Base metal to stardust. So we’ve got the theme worked out. Not difficult as it’s announced repeatedly by the characters. Problem number one. One of the exciting elements of reading a good novel is the archaeological challenge it sets the reader of sifting through the top soil of the text to find the buried clues of the unifying themes. No such fun here. Thematically it has the subtlety of a marketing campaign.
Structurally this novel is messy. We have excerpts from an appalling novel, a memoir, a play – all of which are shoehorned into the text like commercial breaks. There’s a sense that the author read Cloud Atlas while writing this novel and thought he’d try his own variation of Mitchell’s choral symphony of storytelling voices. Here it ends up like amateurish pastiche. Then we have Richard Burton. What he’s doing in this novel is anyone’s guess. As if two male characters with alcohol addiction problems weren’t enough.
Some of my misgivings were subjective. I found the humour puerile on the whole. Objected to the patronising stereotypical account of Italian fishermen and the author’s tourist perspective of Italy on the whole. Porto Vergogna is a preposterous name for an Italian village. Again highlighting how little understanding the author has of Italian culture.

The end. From satirising the ethos of Hollywood the novel ultimately endorses it. Stardust fountains from the sky and we have the sentimental Hollywood feel-good end as three feckless males suddenly become ideal husbands. In fact this novel could have been called The Ideal Husband.
Ultimately it’s the misleading reviews of this novel that I object to. Perhaps it’s okay as light entertainment but because it’s been hailed as a literary masterpiece one is compelled to put one’s foot down.
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