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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

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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 39 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Russell Keswick, ON, Canada 11-07-12
    Russell Keswick, ON, Canada 11-07-12 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Deep Insight into the Human Condition"

    This is one of the best books I've listened to in years. The amazing part is it didn't need thrilling suspense, a great science fiction idea (one of my weaknesses) or intense action to keep me interested. In other words my usual over sugary drink - which we all know can lead to poor health, was reduced down to a clear sparkling refreshing plain old glass of water.

    This is a great story that unfolds over many eras and from different perspectives with a little dash of celebrity to add some spice.

    The insights this author has into how we sometimes miscommunicate or misinterpret our reality was a joy to hear because we don't always admit to or realize those inaccuracies are a part of our life. Why is that delightful? Because it explains so much in how things don't always turn out the way we are trying to steer them and are not always the way we imagine them. (I'm thinking of how a main character was way off in her inspired interpretation of a painting left by a German Soldier.)

    I was uplifted by this story and for all of those readers like me who are wary of books that don't punch with the usual thrills of zombies, vampires, aliens, murder ... (this list of some of my weaknesses can go on quite long) ... please take a chance on this book. You won't be disappointed.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    forever listening 07-12-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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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.

    40 of 44 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Diana - Audible Oradell, NJ, United States 09-26-12
    Diana - Audible Oradell, NJ, United States 09-26-12 Member Since 2010

    "Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them." --Lemony Snicket

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I will not stop recommending this book!"

    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!

    15 of 16 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 34 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Melinda UT 07-11-12
    Melinda UT 07-11-12 Member Since 2009

    So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Literary Cinemascope"

    *Love don't make things nice - it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren't here to make things perfect. We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and to love the wrong people and die.* [Moonstruck]

    The ruination of love, a promising career, a cliff-side village, innocent ideals, a culture, even a handsome youthful face, ...elements that comprise this *beautiful* novel about balancing what we want, with what is best. It is Time that moves the element of Ruin in each case: deceit, vanity, circumstance, ego, and duty--and author Walter perfectly constructs every minute of time in this brilliant book with insightfullness and finesse...my favorite Jess Walter book to date, and one of my favorite novels of the year. A cast of some of the most memorable and endearing characters to come along in a while (and there are a lot of them in this 40 year saga), including the larger-than-life tornado of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, in a rare supporting role. It is the breathtaking Italian coast that steals the show as the main character -- so perfectly drawn that I remember that sea breeze off the Amalfi and Liguaria coasts like I was there just yesterday. Liz and Dick buzz through this seaside town and these villager's lives like a wreckless speedboat, and the story develops in that ever-growing destructive wake.

    This book is cinemascope in text! About as different in subject as you could get from Walter's recent The Financial Lives of Poets, but still glittering with his original and accurate voice, his knack for capturing the social zeitgeist, and his tender compassion masked so well as dark irony. Written and performed so damned well, that I thought parts were absolutely serious (it's Hollyweird...who knows?) and it took me a few minutes to remember, "this is Jess Walter...this is sarcasm, this is funny!" (outbursts of laughter followed). He describes the lecherous and oily machinations of the 60's Hollywood scene, and a particularly vile film producer that has had so many spa treatments, facial surgeries, botox injections, "cyst and growth removals," that at 72 yrs. old he looks "like a 9-yr. old Filipino girl;" this waxen-faced producer has his assistant hold "Wild Pitch Fridays", one where a hopeful screenwriter even pitches a movie about "Donner!" (complete with exclamation point and chapter entitled "Eating Human Flesh")--it is gut-busting funny. A highlight of the book was the too-brief section where Sir Richard Burton appears--a ridiculously elegant drunk womanizer--performed so well by narrator Edoardo Ballerini that I enthusiastically made everyone I came in contact with while I listened share this part.

    But, high-brow chuckles aside, this is not a humorous novel--it is a love story--or at least, several love stories, with *beautiful* and poignant scenes that just resonnate in the listener. Walter creates heart warming (and heartbreaking) moments, as well as the wonderful and sincere Pasquale, one of the most lovelorn characters since Florentino from Gabriel Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera --and one of the few characters with conscience in this story, that actually even considers the theme of desire vs. duty. (A conscience imbedded in him by a dying Italian mama and the great character of his old crone aunt, a "witch" that calls women whores and puts a curse on a drunken Sir Richard.)

    The last small section of the book is one of the most outstanding "wrap-ups" I've read --moving, and again, *beautiful* in every sense.

    Large and sweeping, absolutely panoramic; but it is Walter's undeniable talent that aligns it all so effortlessly that it flows into a masterpiece. Ballerini as narrator: Perfezione! From his lilting Italian prose, to his remarkable Welsh drunk dialect...no one could have performed this book better. Some may find the bulk of cast and their individual stories overwhelming, or the skipping between the past and present confusing; the conversations can languish and don't always serve to move the story forward...but there was nowhere else I wanted to go, and I loved every minute of this beautiful book..






    109 of 123 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.

    54 of 61 people found this review helpful
  •  
    07-17-12
    07-17-12 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Beautiful novel"
    Any additional comments?

    I was told about this book by a friend who had read the printed version. After listening to the excellent narration of a wonderful story, I wanted to tell my friend she had somehow been cheated and desperately needed to listen to it! Truly a fantastic book and narration. And, it didn't hurt that my mother's family is originally from the region of Italy depicted in the story... a beautiful part of a beautiful country.

    19 of 21 people found this review helpful
  •  
    EL 04-01-13
    EL 04-01-13 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
    11
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    "Once again - fooled by the good reviews"
    Any additional comments?

    This is another instance where I've purchased a book because of the great reviews. I agree with Kathy's review, except I thought the narrator was OK. I didn't feel any character was well developed and really disliked the back and forth between the character stories. At first I thought I didn't "bond" with the book because I wasn't traveling very much and therefore was only able to listen in short spurts. When it was over, I was glad. I also felt there was too much time spent on the son, who was not integral to the story in my opinion. The other characters could have used all that story line time.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Phyllis Knoxville, TN, United States 03-12-13
    Phyllis Knoxville, TN, United States 03-12-13 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Disappointed"
    Any additional comments?

    Superb performance and lovely descriptions of place aren't enough to fluff up the rather flat characters and rather predictable story. Pasquale and Dee, were probably the closest to fully fledged characters, but still not enough to drum up emotion to really drive the story for me. Lacking some real character driven events, the storyline is injected with a few odd, somewhat awkward, turns to keep it moving to the desired conclusion. Overall, not a completely unpleasant diversion though, the actor's performance is brilliant and it's easy to imagine losing oneself on one of these islands.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
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