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
Dept Q, Harry Hole... where are you?
I purchased this book on the recommendation of its reader, Edoardo Ballerini. His work on Lou Burney's Gutshot Straight made me a huge fan of his and the author. So I purchased it without knowing the first thing about it. What a treasure!
In my review of "14" I listed Mr. Ballerini as one of the top 4 readers on Audible. Scott Brick being a distant 5th, Edoardo competes for the top spot with Will Patton (James Lee Burke novels), Tom Stechschulte (No Country For Old Men) and Ray Porter (Dawn Patrol). The bottom line is that Ballerini's work is up to the task of this masterpiece of modern literature.
As for the book, I can only say I fell in love with all of it. I loved its history, beauty, tragedy, romance, mystery, characters and storytelling. Does this make you want to listen? I hope so, because it is so much more...
Short, Simple, No Spoilers
Friends raved about this one and reviewers gave it 5 stars so I took a chance. Beautiful Ruins was not for me. Good premise adding a backstory to the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor firestorm making Cleopatra, with new characters. Parts were entertaining, but overall, the different points of view were disjointed, not flowing back together and characters were not developed beyond surface aspects. The ideas were present yet not explored with enough detail, creating real people you cared about. The ending was rushed.
Say something about yourself!
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
"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!
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.
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.
Addicted to Audible!
I am not sure I would have loved this book as much if I had read it, but listening was a wonderful experience! The Narrator was superb and I was transported to Italy, America and back many times. I did not find the switching between past and present difficult to follow as I do in other books. I enjoyed the intertwined stories and the way they were all tied up neatly in the end. Having a daughter who is currently studying film restoration and preservation at UCLA right now also made it quite interesting to me, as that was Claire's background. Great literature - NO, an enjoyable and entertaining listen - YES!!
Besides incessant listening to audiobooks, I also read on my Kindle at night, birdwatch, garden (roses, daylilies), and do genealogy.
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 hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear.
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.
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.
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.
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