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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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  •  
    Bonny Flemington, NJ, United States 10-11-12
    Bonny Flemington, NJ, United States 10-11-12 Member Since 2009

    Mother, knitter, reader, lifelong learner, technical writer, former library assistant & hematologist.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Brilliant book paired with the perfect narrator!"

    I am in awe of Jess Walter and his writing talent. In Beautiful Ruins he takes numerous disparate characters and stories and manages to tie them together perfectly in a book that I was sorry to see end. I resisted reading this book for a long time, sure that it couldn't live up to the hype. I finally gave in, sure that I wouldn't like it, but I was amazed at Walter's ability to make me care about nine characters over five decades and two continents in situations both ludicrous and serious. This book includes a dying Hollywood starlet, an Italian who runs the Hotel Adequate View, a book (chapter) within the book, an over-the-top Hollywood producer along with excerpts from his self-help book, his cynical assistant who has seen too much of the worst of Hollywood, Richard Burton, and the infamous pitch for the movie Donner!, all written perfectly, with incredible observance, detail, and depth, and with enough humor to make you laugh out loud.

    Edoardo Ballerini is the perfect narrator for this book. He brings the many characters to life and his wonderful voice and Italian pronunciation make this excellent book even better.

    Beautiful Ruins is entertaining, but not lightweight or frivolous. I think it's mainly about fame/infamy, finding meaning in a world of junk culture, love, and loss. I feel lucky that I've never read anything by this author and can look forward to reading much more from the brilliant mind of Jess Walter.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Natalie Chilliwack, BC, Canada 09-29-12
    Natalie Chilliwack, BC, Canada 09-29-12 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "What's all the fuss about?"
    What did you like best about Beautiful Ruins? What did you like least?

    It's an easy listen, but that's all it is. Not sure why it is being compared so favourably with The Help because they are leagues apart in creativity and style.


    What aspect of Edoardo Ballerini’s performance would you have changed?

    I've listened to several books performed by Ballerini. He has a great voice and good inflection - but some of his accents are horrible. I think if an actor can't give an adequate rendition of an accent it would be better if they just didn't bother; then we could have been spared Ballerini's attempts at various British accents - all of which were painfully bad.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    Nope


    Any additional comments?

    It's an easy, enjoyable listen, but if you're looking for something of the quality of The Help look somewhere else.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patricia FAIRWAY, KS, United States 08-30-12
    Patricia FAIRWAY, KS, United States 08-30-12 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "low-brow entertainment"
    Any additional comments?

    I could not finish this book. While listening I kept asking myself how this book could have received so many rave reviews. I wanted to give it a SCATHING review and go on and on about how poorly written it was. Then, it finally hit me. At the risk of seeming elitist, I realized that it's all a matter of taste. People have different tastes in music, movies, food and literature. So if your taste in books runs to the "junk food" variety, you'll probably love this one.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jenny United States 08-07-12
    Jenny United States 08-07-12
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    "didn't like"
    What would have made Beautiful Ruins better?

    The start was good but went downhill fast. Didn't finish it.


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    Grisham


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Edoardo Ballerini?

    He was fine


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Beautiful Ruins?

    Would have stuck to the start. Modern characters stunk.


    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Butch SHERWOOD, AR, United States 07-15-12
    Butch SHERWOOD, AR, United States 07-15-12 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Excellent narrator!"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Beautiful Ruins to be better than the print version?

    Yes. Edoardo does an excellent job handling the different characters.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Pasquale Tursi. His was the one character who had honor.


    Which character – as performed by Edoardo Ballerini – was your favorite?

    Pasquale.


    If you could take any character from Beautiful Ruins out to dinner, who would it be and why?

    Pasquale.


    Any additional comments?

    I downloaded this book after reading a review about it in the NY Times. It would not have been one I would have normally read or listened to. The narrator really did a great job making the story come alive. His fluency in Italian was a big plus.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Arien Plainfield,, IN, United States 10-02-13
    Arien Plainfield,, IN, United States 10-02-13 Member Since 2013

    Wife, mother, working girl, and book addict! Love a good fiction, series, romance, sci-fi, or mystery thriller!

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    "Not What I Expected."

    This book was a bit of a let down. The characters were varied and interesting and I loved getting to see them develop through the twenty year span of the book. I loved the intertwining of the stories but was left unfulfilled at the conclusion.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ludia roma, Italy 04-15-13
    Ludia roma, Italy 04-15-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Disappointing"
    What disappointed you about Beautiful Ruins?

    Impossible to listen for an Italian speaker, it's read half in italian half in English, the italian fishers speak an improbable english. Awful


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    lora CORUNNA, ON, Canada 03-03-13
    lora CORUNNA, ON, Canada 03-03-13 Member Since 2012

    Mother of teenaged bear, Wife to chaos, Warrior

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "ruined day"
    Where does Beautiful Ruins rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    I would give this a two, it wasn't a terrible book. it just wasn't for me. I followed the hype, and I should of listened to my head.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    KP Oakland, CA 01-27-13
    KP Oakland, CA 01-27-13 Member Since 2006

    There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away Nor any Coursers like a Page Of prancing Poetry – Emily Dickinson

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "World Class!"

    Yup, I loved it. There are so many interesting facets of this book. First and foremost, there's a good story. I think the book would stand alone on that fact. However, there's more. It is really funny, too. The social satire is biting... taking the biggest bite out of the movie industry. Michael Deane's character is villainous, and the continued descriptions of him are hysterical. Here's just one example:

    “It may be impossible to trace the sequence of facials, spa treatments, mud baths, cosmetic procedures, lifts and staples, collagen implants, outpatient touch-ups, tannings, Botox injections, cyst and growth removals and stem-cell injections that have caused a 72-year-old man to have the face of a 9-year-old Filipino girl.”

    Richard Burton is also portrayed as a villain, and in a tragically funny way. It is interesting that all the Hollywood characters are ALWAYS mentioned by the author with their full names. So it's always, "Richard Burton did this, " and ," Michael Deane did such and such." The only time they are called by their first name is if a character is speaking to them or about them. I loved this device as yet another way to show their soul-lessness. They only seem to exist as their Hollywood character and not as a human being with a heart. The only Hollywood character who escapes this naming device is Dee Moray, and this is because she is NOT just a Hollywood-type character and is actually one of the "good guys" in the novel.

    The book is also romantic and thought provoking. I love the way Richard Burton's villainy provokes Pasquale to "do the right thing." He thinks back to when his mother talked to him about “how much much easier life would be if our intentions and our desires could always be aligned. “ Later in the story, he acts on this lesson. I felt like this was the highlight or climax of the book, what it was really building up to, at least as far as the Pasquale story goes, and it made me sob, which I love. (spoiler alert here; couldn’t help including this.)

    “And when beautiful Amedea lifted Bruno from the stroller, Pasquale thought again of his mother on the beach that day—her fear that, when she was gone, Pasquale wouldn’t be able to bridge the gap between what he wanted and what was right. He wished he could reassure his mother: a man wants many things in life, but when one of them is also the right thing, he would be a fool not to choose it.”
    (locations 5438-5441)

    The title: it can refer to so many things, but mainly it refers to the ruins of people's lives and dreams. Almost everyone in the book has dreams of “making it big,” and the dreams never turn out to be what they expected, BUT in large part their lives are beautiful in spite of it.

    I love the descriptions of the paintings on the WWII bunker and when Dee at Pasquale realize that the impact of the paintings would not be the same if the wall were displaced into a museum. It is the whole geography of the paintings that makes them so special, and somehow I think they represent the longing to have love and a beautiful life that Pasquale and Dee Moray have throughout the book. And the paintings are also "beautiful ruins." Will the girl in the paintings get reunited? Will Pasquale and Dee ever find their true love or see each other again? The paintings are "ruins" also, but they immortalize the longing and beauty of love. At the end we find out that this story, too, isn’t quite what we thought it was. Another “Beautiful Ruin”?

    And then there is that Donner! story. The story itself is pretty lame, as it's supposed to be, but what I liked is how when Michael Deane's group goes to Idaho to find Claire, the author describes them all in terms of the Donner party. That cracked me up. For example, the author starts out the chapter called “Front Man” with a comparison, “At 11:14 A.M., the doomed Deane Party departs LAX on the first leg of its epic journey… “ (location 4938) and he doesn’t let us forget the comparison to the Donner party as Shane considers ways to get more money for his Donner! story.

    “In the Emerald City the tragic Deane Party changes planes, Shane ever so casually mentioning that the ground they’ve covered so far in just over two hours would’ve taken William Eddy months to travel.
    ‘And we haven’t even had to eat anyone’, Michael Deane says…. “ (location4959)

    The various writing techniques the author uses are interesting. The Donner! story as a chapter is one example, and then using Michael Deane's first chapter of his autobiography as a chapter in the real book is another. This first chapter is also hysterical and adds to the reader's already poor opinion of MD. It also adds another perspective to the story of Michael and Dee Moray.

    Variety of perspective is definitely on display throughout the book. The stories of the various characters constantly illuminate different elements of the plot, and sometimes one character's story reaches back in time and finally unveils what we've been wondering about another character. I like that convoluted way of moving the plot forward. It is interesting.

    Michael Deane says his great epiphany was "People want what they want." This revelation shaped his career. His talent is to divine what people want and get it for them. This comes into play in several areas of the book. The "Lydia play" at the end of the book demonstrates how this is true for several people. First of all, Pat Bender and Lydia want what they want: each other over all those years. But then the play makes Claire realize her love for Darrell, and also Shane realizes how he messed up with his first wife. The play causes them to re examine their lives. The Michael Deane theme that "everyone wants what they want and they won't/can't be dissuaded from it” portrays all these couples and their continued love and longing. Even though MD is a despicable character, I did recognize that he had this special ability, and he made quite a career out of it.


    ************

    Lit Lovers book club questions

    ****************

    Jess Walter interview, Salon

    "Richard Burton appears in the book, to great effect. How much research did you do on him? How many of his films had you seen, and did you watch after you decided to include him as a character? I love that the title comes from the piece describing Burton on Dick Cavett (I watched the clips on YouTube…there are worse people to be on a boat off the coast of Italy with).
    I always do a lot of research, immerse myself so that I believe it, then set the nonfiction aside and let it become fiction. So, yes, I read books and watched Burton films and interviews and, my favorite, old footage of him on stage (Burton’s “Hamlet”, in black and white, filmed from a distance with an unmoving camera, is stunning … you can’t believe the power coiled in that body and voice, especially when compared to the craggy old sot who appears in that Cavett interview). His relationship to his art (acting) and fame really hovered over the entire novel, over all the characters and their attempts to express themselves through novels and stories and music and plays and acting and painting. He was sort of a talisman for the book but I didn’t know if the chapter with him in it would make sense. I wrote and jettisoned so many chapters along the way (including Dee dying in the 1980s and even a po-mo chapter in which I entered my own book to pitch a film version of “The Zero“ … it was like crawling down a hall, finding a closed door, then backing up and trying another hall. But as soon as I wrote Burton, I felt like I was crawling in the right direction."

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pat Belfast, South Africa 12-23-12
    Pat Belfast, South Africa 12-23-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "misleading summary"
    Would you try another book from Jess Walter and/or Edoardo Ballerini?

    NO


    What didn’t you like about Edoardo Ballerini’s performance?

    boring


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    no


    Any additional comments?

    mindnumbingly boring and is nothing like the overview implied. I thought it was a story about a village in Italy. Turns out its about a whole lot of "hasbeens" in the performing arts.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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