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
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
*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..
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!
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.
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.
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