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Beautiful Ruins | [Jess Walter]

Beautiful Ruins

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.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Why we think it's Essential - Jess Walter’s beautiful and shimmering novel was our editors’ pick for Best Book of 2012, so it was an obvious contender as a new Essential. But Essentials can’t simply be flash-in the pan momentary book crushes, the books on this list have to have legs, and we think that Beautiful Ruins certainly qualifies. Sweeping in scope and breadth, the message within this book runs deep and across generations. And Edoardo Ballerini’s magnificent and elegant narration bestows a level of believability and immediacy to the epic themes at play here. —Emily

Publisher's Summary

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

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (7189 )
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  •  
    Marsha Pauma Valley, CA, United States 07-04-12
    Marsha Pauma Valley, CA, United States 07-04-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Ruins Include Thoughtful Review of Life's Choices"

    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!

    36 of 41 people found this review helpful
  •  
    tthomson53 Richmond, VA, United States 01-12-13
    tthomson53 Richmond, VA, United States 01-12-13 Member Since 2009
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    "What's all the fuss about??"

    This barely deserves two stars, in my opinion. A sentimental fiction that revolves around Hollywood characters in 1962, the present, and in-between, with Italy thrown in for good measure. None of the characters is rememberable, the use of Richard Burton (with a fiction created around him that's almost too stupid to bear) is beyond the pale, and the constant time-shifting is schizophrenic. Even the male protagonist, Pasquale, is unremarkable, and I spent the whole book waiting for him to make a correct decision - or any decision, for that matter. The way the author wraps up the tale, updating us on what happened to all the characters, suggests that he had a publishing deadline to make and had to deal with them all in one chapter instead of many. Why this book got so many great reviews is beyond me.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ana São Paulo, Brazil 12-20-12
    Ana São Paulo, Brazil 12-20-12 Member Since 2014
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    "Boring book"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    I don't know who would enjoy this book, because I could not read it to the end. Maybe there is a point in which it becomes more exciting, but I did not reach this part...


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    I have to say I am a bit disappointed, since it was a highly recommended book. The cover also attracted me, but in the end, it was just boring and not the kind of story dynamics I was expecting.


    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patricia A. Healy 10-11-12 Member Since 2002

    Befriend Me

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "THIS IS NOT LIKE THE HELP"
    Would you try another book from Jess Walter and/or Edoardo Ballerini?

    Yes, I'd try another book from this authors.


    Was Beautiful Ruins worth the listening time?

    This book was entertaining but in no way should it be compared to "The Help". It caught my attention but it wasn't a book I couldn't stop listening to. I gave it three stars because it was just alright. This is the first time I ever wrote a review and I am doing so because I was duped into listening and perhaps I can save someone else the $$$ or a credit.


    17 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rachael Athens, OH, United States 08-19-12
    Rachael Athens, OH, United States 08-19-12 Member Since 2013
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    "Nice Story"

    It was an okay story. I purchased this based on reviews, but it did not hold up to the hype. Anyone who liked this would try an Ann River Siddons novel.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    B.J. Minneapolis, MN, United States 07-21-12
    B.J. Minneapolis, MN, United States 07-21-12 Member Since 2010

    I hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear.

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    "A beautiful, complicated book"

    Let me say from the top that the narration of this book has got to be one of the best ever. The voices of the characters are perfect. It deserves something more than 5 stars. Then again, there was a lot to work with. Love and loss, dreams, reality, responsibility, family ... it's all here. It's impossible not to relate to just a little bit of most of the characters - all of whom are deep and flawed and very real. Terrific book club book. Lots to talk about after.

    23 of 26 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Maria 07-14-12
    Maria 07-14-12 Member Since 2015
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    "Meh... not sure what all the hype is about."

    I actually didn't finish this book. I feel a bit lost... I am totally baffled as to how it's getting such rave reviews. I had such high hopes for this book. It looked beautiful. Sounded beautiful. Had such literary potential. But then I began listening. And listening. And listening. And I waited for that moment that everyone else seemed to have, where the descriptions made them want to drop everything and fly to Italy. Or where the amazing writing of old Hollywood captivated them. It just never happened. I was not only bored with the story, but never have I read a story that so abruptly jarred me back and forth between scenes. It just didn't flow nicely. Plus, there were some really odd changes with the tenses, shifting from past to present. About 3/4 of the way through (blasphemous, I know), I just gave up. In all honesty, there are so many other books I'd rather be reading. Not sure why I wasn't one of the enlightened ones, but I just wasn't.

    59 of 68 people found this review helpful
  •  
    forever listening 07-12-12
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    "Unexpected Delight"

    One of my favorite pastimes is to browse the audible website which is how I found this book. Based on other reviews, I decided to give it a try....someone mentioned they heard high praise of it on NPR which was good enough for me. It took me an hour or so to get into it....I can honestly say I didn't like the whole Donner party stuff but weathered that storyline well enough. In the end I think this will go down as one of my all time favorite reads. The wonderful reading by Edoardo just enhances the characters. It was a wonderfully and inventively woven tale which ended with me shedding a few quiet tears...though it's not sad.....just the richness and fullness of life.

    43 of 50 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Richard Delman San Francisco 08-22-12
    Richard Delman San Francisco 08-22-12 Member Since 2013

    I am a 65-year-old psychologist, married for 25 years, with two sons who are 25 and 22. I love reviewing the books and the feedback I get.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "YOU...MUST...READ...THIS."

    This is one of the most beautiful and entertaining works I have read in a very long time. I had never heard of Jess Walter, but I sure will watch for him now. I had heard the voice(s) of Edoardo Balerini, reading Lou Berney's Gutshot Straight, and I loved the narration. Balerini's Italian is magical. The language just flows off his tongue with such gorgeous melodies and passages that you just want to visit Italy right now. The story itself is very complex (Braided is the author's word for the structure, and, duh, it is the perfect word.) The book follows the lives of a few Italians who live in a tiny village called Porto Vergogna, a place so small that it can only be reached by fishing boat. The other characters are Americans. Deborah Moore is a tall, beautiful actress who is sent to the town for spurious reasons. Rome is lit up by the filming of Cleopatra, and the world is lit up by the romance of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. Many other characters come into and out of the lives of the protagonists, and the book spans the time between 1962 and the present. The writing is extremely skillful. Several chapters are written in different voices, and Walter manages this feat beautifully. I loved this book without qualification. It is full of life, hope, sadness, genuine redemption and most of all, love. I cannot imagine an Audible reader not loving this book.

    37 of 43 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kimberly 07-08-12
    Kimberly 07-08-12 Member Since 2007

    Say something about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "OH!!! WOW!!!"

    I LOVE this book! The title is perfect. Even some ruins are just as beautiful in what they became as how they started out - completely different but beutiful. I???m still crying because???the book ended? the book/end was so well done? because I could have never imagined it would end this way. YES to all.

    This book has so many great elements ??? and the narration of Edoardo Ballerini ??? spot on!! I laughed until I cried (especially the Richard Burton scenes ??? but so many others!), and I cried and didn???t want to stop. I lost a whole weekend because I could not stop listening ??? this is a warning. The only critical thing I can say about it is some parts start at the end and work back, some parts don???t, but in the end it was perfect. Rest assured you end up knowing what you need to know ??? and I would NOT change a thing. DO NOT SKIP THE EPILOG.

    I would buy this again if I had to; thank goodness I can listen to it as many times as I want. Thank you Jess Walter and Audible!

    Jess Walter - I will read anything you write from now on (I say that now...:).

    The best review

    31 of 36 people found this review helpful

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