Audie Award Nominee, Fiction and Best Solo Narration, 2013
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 50 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.
©2012 Jess Walter (P)2012 HarperCollins Publisher
I admit I'm a Smut Glutton, I prefer Male Narrators, Sexy Book Covers get me and I'm 32 years Happily Married.
I have listened to over 550 books, some more than once. I can spend hours searching for the best books worthy of my cherished credits. Then, two nights ago, when I opened the home page to shop, Beautiful Ruins was one of the featured books, however I actually thought I had clicked the book next to it. As I said, BEST mistake I've ever made. Soo much detail and development. I never knew I could love a book where all the characters seem so flawed. Needless to say, no hours spent shopping for use of my next credit... another Jess Walter book. Then I'll shop Edoardo Ballerini books! You should too!
"Beautiful Ruins" is set in Italy, in Hollywood, in Edinburgh, Portland, Idaho and Seattle, but mostly it is set in summer -- even the darker passages are warm and lit by humor. A nimble series of interlocking plots is set in motion during the filming of "Cleopatra" in Rome, which plays out into the present. Since there are so many colliding (or colluding) stories, it is a pleasure to note that there are no stock characters, no CGI extras on hand: even minor characters assert their individuality. In particular, Richard Burton has an extended cameo that is both hilarious and irresistible -- the reader gets a real sense of the actor's intense charisma, as well as a cool assessment of the damage left in a narcissist's wake. Of the major characters, my very favorite is the wily, amoral puppet-master Michael Deane: he is so entirely shameless, so entirely and unconflictedly himself, that all is bulldozed before him. He makes the mess that starts the story, and more or less cleans it up eventually.
This is a satire, but one with warmth and humor as well as anger.
The narration, by Edoardo Ballerini, deserves special praise, for his fluent reading of Italian as well as for his subtle acting.
Knowledge is knowing the way. Wisdom is looking for an alternative, more interesting road to get there. Audiobooks are that road.
I know this won’t be a popular review but I have to be honest. I picked this one up because of the endless five star ratings. Unfortunately I cannot join that club. I found the book choppy and the characters shallow. I didn’t connect emotionally to any of them, not even Pasquale and Dee Moray. Sure there were parts that I enjoyed, especially the scenes in 1962 Italy. The descriptions of Porto Vergogna were enchanting. It was the change to the present day Hollywood storyline that I found rather dull. Even the addition of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor didn’t manage to light my fire. I found my mind wondering often and that’s never a good sign. Too many characters, too many storylines, none of which were terribly compelling. I did force myself to finish the book, but it was a chore. I guess it wasn’t my cup of tea.
Edoardo Ballerini did a good job narrating. His knowledge of Italian added authenticity to Pasquale and helped bring me into the beautiful setting.
"Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them." --Lemony Snicket
Until Beautiful Ruins, I had never read any of Jess Walter’s work, nor listened to any of Edoardo Ballerini’s performances. But when I started listening to their masterful collaboration I got the same feeling I did when listening to Water for Elephants and The Help for the first time. There’s something special here, without a doubt. Ballerini caught my attention right away, as the novel starts out with a description of the Cinque Terre along Italy’s coast and is made even more beautiful by his impeccable Italian. Walter speaks of intersecting lives and flips back and forth between present-day Hollywood and the Italian Riviera of the 1960s, telling a captivating story of love, disillusionment, friendship, and the realities of responsibility that I won’t soon forget (and won’t stop recommending until everyone I know has a similar soft spot in their heart for Pasquale Tursi!).
Next up...everything else that Jess Walter has written and Edoardo Ballerini has narrated!
Yes. This book is completely engrossing, interweaving the lives of several completely different kinds of people who intersect over a fifty year time period. It's written like a jigsaw puzzle, all the pieces fit together at the end. At times fun and enjoyable, at other times sad, heartbreaking. The images of Italy, both in 1962 and at present were breathtakingly described.
The ability of the author to tell an engrossing, detailed story bringing in so many different people. The story travels from Italy to Hollywood and then to Seattle and Idaho; back and forth from 1962 to present (with look-backs in between).
I have not heard his narration before but was impressed with his performance with this book.
I wanted to, it was engrossing but it actually took several sittings to complete.
With all the 5 star reviews, I felt I couldn't go wrong with this book. Much to my surprise, I did not enjoy it at all. It started out in Italy and seemed very promising. Then it began jumping back and forth in time. Then, the author added numerous unlikeable characters. Then there was the Richard Burton and Liz Taylor thread. All the while, the narrator sounded like he had taken lessons from Scott Brick. He just got carried away with himself. While he was fine with the Italian accents, I really disliked his performance with the rest of the characters and his style of speaking. I would not seek out this narrator and perhaps might even avoid him in the future.
As for the story itself, it seemed a bit farfetched to believe a woman could confuse pregnancy with stomach cancer. We heard over and over again about how beautiful she was but little else was developed about her personality, other than she raised a very disturbed son and seemed to be a basket case herself. The Hollywood characters bored me to tears. Then, there wasn't enough payoff in the end. I kept hoping the ending would redeem it for me.
All the while, I kept wondering what was wrong with me. How could I dislike a book with such consistent rave reviews? I started going back to the reviews, reading them in hopes I would find the missing element that would enhance this experience for me. It didn't work. I guess you can't please all of the people all of the time.
I love books!
I can not tell you how much I enjoyed this book. It is really several stories in one starting with Pasquel a small hotel owner in a very small Italian coastal village to present day Hollywood with Chair a young disillusioned development assistant.
Jess Walter is very good at descriptions and has a real feel for the locations described and life.
I got this book because of an NPR review rated it as the best new novel of the year. I agree
One other thing I think Edoardo Ballerini was fabulous as the narrator
Say something about myself! Or about yourself! Or something!
The structure is ideal. The craftsmanship is wonderful -the novel was constructed and finished like some complex engineering creation, say a high rise or, perhaps a tennis court, cantilevered over the sea. This is not a slight -great art often depends on great craftsmanship. The language shines though for me, Edoardo Ballerini's reading may have taken it farther than reading it myself.
I rarely laugh out loud listening to novels, particularly since I might be listening with my wife or the three year old asleep next to me. BUT, this made me laugh out loud twice. Once at dialogue and once at a plot twist. Naturally, Beautiful Ruins makes me want to visit Liguria AND perhaps rent Cleopatra.
This is a beautifully crafted story. I think the thing I enjoyed most about it is how the author, Jess Walter, was able to tell several different but related stories at once, weaving them together into a unified whole. The stories crossed many years and many countries before being tied up so beautifully in the end. Each story has its heartbreaks and happiness, bitter and sweet. It is like a symphony that passes the melody around through various instruments, but at last brings it all together in a glorious recapitulation.
The characters are well developed and run the gamut from many that I loved, to many that I disliked, to some that I loathed. I recommend this book to most adult readers, those who can appreciate a good story without freaking at the yucky stuff. There is some swearing in it, but it is mostly by the bad guys, something that made me dislike them all the more. I just don't like to read a lot of swearing. It isn't classy.
This book made me want to look up information on Richard Burton. Did you know he was #12 of 13 children? His mother died giving birth to #13. He was raised by his sister Cecelia. Burton was not his real surname. He took that name from his mentor who adopted him, Phillip Burton. Phillip made him go up on the highlands in the wind and practice his diction. He had to make himself be heard and understood without shouting. He was very close friends with Dylan Thomas, and grieved a long time when Thomas died young.
Thought you might enjoy that bit of Richard Burton trivia. You'll appreciate it if you read this book.
Narration by Edoardo Ballerini was top notch. Obviously Italian himself, he seemed at ease in both English and Italian.
This story is set in one of the most beautiful areas I've visited, and, like the setting, describes characters and contexts that are at once well-known and the hidden paths, seemingly discovered by chance. The novel tells many stories about how an intricate matrix of crass and benevolent characters make life-choices by following the paths to "what they want" and "what is right", and the tension when those paths are not always in parallel. Even though the "players" have flaws and can cause pain for each other, each choice shines by expressing eventually some of the better parts of human life.
There are many examples of these choices, a small example is how Jess Walter describes the growth of one of the characters who has devoted himself to building a cantilevered tennis court along the beautiful Ligurian coast. He eventually discovers that unlike the photos he's seen of tennis (he's never played), every point in tennis includes a swing that misses.
The romance, for me, is more poignant because it optimistically allows some of the best parts of human love to be expressed not through a standard "happily-ever-after" resolution, and that life includes the harder, more complex, "what is right" choices.
The narrator Edoardo Ballerini brings a depth to the characters, Italian pronunciation, and even does a Welsh voice that you'd recognize. Well done!
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