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Beautiful Ruins by Walter Jess

Beautiful Ruins (edition 2013)

by Walter Jess

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2,3771802,635 (3.81)190
Title:Beautiful Ruins
Authors:Walter Jess
Info:Penguin Books (2013), Paperback
Collections:Your library

Work details

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

  1. 00
    The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Exotic backdrops -- Italy in Beautiful Ruins and Jamaica in The Pirate's Daughter -- combine with Hollywood glamor (and scandal) in these engaging historical novels, in which past events influence present-day situations. Both feature cameo appearances by real-life movie stars.… (more)
  2. 00
    The Rocks by Peter Nichols (Anonymous user)
  3. 02
    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Does what this book is trying to do; does it better.

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» See also 190 mentions

English (177)  Spanish (1)  All languages (178)
Showing 1-5 of 177 (next | show all)
Sweeping and cinematic, I found this to be an enjoyable read, even during the sentimental parts. I like the emphasis of the business of show business and the inversion of leading stars and background extras in the plot focus. ( )
  albertgoldfain | May 21, 2016 |
"This is what happens when you live in dreams, he thought: you dream this and you dream that and you sleep right through your life."- Jess Walter, "Beautiful Ruins"

Jess Walter says "Beautiful Ruins," his break-through novel, was nearly finished before he knew what to call it, or perhaps even what it was all about. Then he came across a magazine article in which actor Richard Burton, then 54, was described as "already a beautiful ruin." And so, after 15 years of struggle, he had his novel, a gem that deserves all the attention it has received since its publication in 2012.

Burton was already a minor, yet important, character in the story. He is the reason Dee Moray, a beautiful young American actress with a small part in "Cleopatra," shows up in a tiny Italian coastal village in 1962. She thinks she is dying of cancer. In truth she is pregnant with Burton's baby. Sent by a studio doctor to Switzerland for treatment, actually an abortion, she instead goes to Porto Vergogna. There Pasquale Tursi strives to turn his small hotel into a resort, complete with a cliff-side tennis court, that will appeal to American tourists. When this lovely actress shows up, he is smitten.

The novel spans decades, and Walter goes back and forth in time, constantly tossing in seemingly unrelated narratives like a chapter of another novel and a pitch for a screenplay about the Donner party. Somehow it all works, and a reader's patience will be rewarded.

Burton is not the novel's only "beautiful ruin." Most of the characters, Dee and Pasquale among them, live lives that fail to equal their dreams. When in the final chapters an aging Pasquale comes to America in search of an aging Dee Moray, by now truly dying of cancer, the ruins of their dreams become quite beautiful. ( )
  hardlyhardy | May 9, 2016 |
Beautiful ruins opens in an out-of-the-way, practically unknown seaside village in Italy in the early 1960's, where a young Hollywood actress steps off a boat and into the life of Pasquale Tursi, proprietor of the local hotel, a man with big dreams for his little town. The actress is Dee Moray, a minor player who is working on the set of Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Convinced she is dying of cancer, Dee has been sent here by the film's producer, Michael Deane ("the Deane of Hollywood"), to rest and await further treatment.

Dee and Pasquale's story from the sixties is intertwined with that of Deane and his assistant, Claire Silver, fifty years in the future, as they research and trace the paths of duty and broken dreams that lead Pasquale and Dee through their separate routes in life.

Beautiful Ruins is a lovely story, a blend of romance and satire with a tinge of melancholy. The title refers not only to the village and it's architecture, but to the character's lives. I loved the way Walter weaves lost souls in and out of the story, and ties everything together in the end, with just the right balance of the comic and tragic. The more I think about it, the more this novels grows on me, one of the few I would read again. ( )
  Kkamm | May 7, 2016 |
“Se non è vero, è ben trovato. . . .” “Even if it is not true, it is well conceived."
Indeed it is.
This old Italian proverb is tucked away on the copyright page, without any translation. (“Beautiful Ruins is a work of fiction. Characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination, and any real names or locales used in the book are used fictitiously. Se non è vero, è ben trovato. . . .”)
I saw it only on finishing the book, and it was like a final and unexpected small reward from the author to the reader.

Beautiful Ruins is a cinematic book --I couldn't stop seeing it as a movie in my mind. Wonderful scenery (eg,small fishing village in Italy, early 1960s, vs studio lots of present day LA), old-fashioned movie star glamour and present day Hollywood drek from an insider view, heart-warming plot lines (love, lost love, redemption etc), great array of characters, and good supply of memorable quotes and snappy dialogue. Does Walter already have the screenplay halfway done?

The story switches between Italy and America, hopping amongst the decades from the 1960s until the present. The author matched his voice to the temporal setting. Scenes in present day Hollywood were funny, ironic, hectic. But he drops the tone for the old Italian stuff in the 60s. It is slower, more reflective“I’ve been thinking about how people sit around for years waiting for their lives to begin, right? Like a movie. ...But I think some people wait forever, and only at the end of their lives do they realize that their life has happened while they were waiting for it to start.”One of the characters is an aging movie producer — botoxed and surgerized into a plastic simile of a human face (George Hamilton is the image that comes to mind),—and his guiding philosophy, his key to understanding human nature and thus the secret of his success, is: “We want what we want.”
And what we want is not always what we say it is. The story knowingly basks at times in sentimentality, maybe because readers (many) want that, even if we say we don't. Satirical humour helps sharpen up the edges of the threatening sentimentality.

One great scene sounds like it could have been from a Humphrey Bogart movie:“A writer needs four things to achieve greatness, Pasquale: desire, disappointment, and the sea.”
“That’s only three.”
Alvis finished his wine. “You have to do disappointment twice.”All loose ends at the end of the story are not only fully accounted for, they are thoroughly tied up, and the package is very much finished.

“The smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be.”

Great read, well-paced, wonderful prose, smart and funny when it needs to be. Recommended .
How long before the movie version? ( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
Book on CD performed by Edoardo Ballerini

On a sunny day in 1962, a young hotel owner, Pasquale, spies a boat approaching his small Italian village. Aboard is a beautiful, young, American actress, Dee, and Pasquale is instantly smitten. Fast forward to the present day, and a Hollywood producer’s assistant is hearing “pitches” on the studio’s back lot, when an elderly Italian gentleman approaches looking for Michael Deane. He’s hoping Deane can help him find Dee.

What a delightful story! Moving back and forth in time, and with multiple styles and points of view, Walter has crafted a love story with wide appeal. The twists and turns in the story stretched the bounds of credulity, but I didn’t care. I was engaged and entertained from page one, and was so sorry to see it end.

Edoardo Ballerini was simply marvelous performing the audio version. I loved the way he voiced Pasquale, Dee, Michael Deane and the many supporting cast members – including Richard Burton, Aunt Valeria, and a host of fishermen. ( )
  BookConcierge | Apr 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 177 (next | show all)
Ruins constitutes a departure for Walter, another unplowed field, and he harrows it straight and true, turning up the fertile humus of the culture’s soiled psyche. Beautiful Ruins collides its broad range of characters in unexpected, unique ways, and the wonderful light touch of the satire makes them eminently believable. Unlike the Juvenalian satirists, whose righteous indignation sometimes results in flat, two-dimensional, cardboard characterizations, Walter’s people inspire sympathy, belief, even a little self-examination. Am I like this? Do I have any qualities that resemble the ones I’m reading about here? If I do, where do I get help?

Jess Walter has written a novel that sprawls on the lawn, looks up fondly at the achingly blue American sky and gazes into the deep humor of our collective human condition. That’s what good satire does—it reminds us who we really are. Humans.
added by zhejw | editPaste, David Langness (Aug 7, 2012)
Walter is simply great on how we live now, and ­— in this particular book — on how we lived then and now, here and there. “Beautiful Ruins” is his Hollywood novel, his Italian novel and his Pacific Northwestern novel all braided into one: an epic romance, tragicomic, invented and reported (Walter knows his “Cleopatra” trivia), magical yet hard-boiled (think García Márquez meets Peter Biskind), with chapters that encompass not just Italy in the ’60s and present-day Hollywood, but also Seattle and Britain and Idaho, plot strands unfolding across the land mines of the last half-century — an American landscape of vice, addiction, loss and heartache, thwarted careers and broken dreams. It is also a novel about love: amorous love, filial love, parental love and the deep, sustaining love of true friendship....

His balanced mixture of pathos and comedy stirs the heart and amuses as it also rescues us from the all too human pain that is the motor of this complex and ever-evolving novel. Any reservations the reader might have about another book about Hollywood, about selling one’s soul (or someone else’s, and pocketing the change) will probably be swept aside by this high-wire feat of bravura storytelling. Walter is a talented and original writer.
added by zhejw | editNew York Times, Helen Schulman (Jul 6, 2012)
This novel is a standout not just because of the inventiveness of its plot, but also because of its language. Jess Walter is essentially a comic writer: Sometimes he's asking readers to laugh at the human condition; sometimes he's inviting us to just plain laugh.
added by zhejw | editNPR, Maureen Corrigan (Jun 18, 2012)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jess Walterprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ballerini, EdoardoNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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De grootste architectonische meesterwerken van de oude Romeinen zijn gebouwd om er wilde dieren in te laten vechten.
- Voltaire, Briefwisselingen
Cleopatra: Ik wil niet de slaaf zijn van de liefde.
Marcus Antonius: Dan zul je geen liefde kennen.
- Uit de rampenfilm Cleopatra, 1963
[Dick] Cavett heeft in 1980 vier lange interviews gehouden met Richard Burton... Burton, met vierenvijftig jaar al een schitterende ruïne, was ongekend charismatisch.
- 'Talk Story' door Louis Menand, The New Yorker, 22 november 2010
To Anne, Brooklyn, Ava, and Alec
First words
The dying actress arrived in his village the only way one could come directly -- in a boat that motored into the cove, lurched past the rock jetty, and bumped against the end of the pier.
Pasquo, the smaller the space between your desire and what is rght, the happier you will be.(page 304)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Follows a young Italian innkeeper and his almost-love affair with a beautiful American starlet, which draws him into a glittering world filled with unforgettable characters.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061928127, Hardcover)

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 fifty 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:29 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A novel that spans fifty years. The Italian housekeeper and his long-lost American starlet; the producer who once brought them together, and his assistant. A glittering world filled with unforgettable characters.

(summary from another edition)

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