Okay, so here is a book where I completely and solely judged (wrongfully it now appears) it by its cover. I knew this was a buzz-book, and I thought it was all about the love for Italy or was some kind of romance taking place in Italy (it is in a way, but…not really) or some such. I also remembered seeing the HarperCollins Canada series inviting their readers to travel the world through some of their books. Beautiful Ruins was (obviously) the one used for time spent in Italy. Therefore, that and this cover, really put me off it for some rather odd reason. I just didn’t think it would be something I would enjoy. I kept seeing it everywhere and still, that cover just didn’t work up any excitement for me. I remained adamantly removed from adding this one to my reading piles.
And then, there was the one night we were enjoying ourselves at the Wink 3 book club, this book was being returned to its owner after having been lent out as a vacation read. Everyone else then spoke about how much they loved it. Then, at that exact same moment (honestly!) I received a message from my co-worker saying he had just finished Jess Walter’s Land of the Blind and thought it was one of the best books he’s read all year. Okay, okay. Hint taken. Pass Beautiful Ruins over to me and I’ll start reading it the next day.
I was wrong. Everyone else was right.
Walter’s has written a wonderfully layered, emotionally complex and driven story. There are a number of characters involved but they are all so wonderfully drawn that it never becomes confusing or weighed down. It even includes Richard Burton and small cameos by Elizabeth Taylor! You may find that kind of cheesy sounding, but it’s not. At all. What unfolds is a fantastic tale beginning with the first time Pasquale sees the beautiful American actress Dee Moray step off a boat and onto his tiny, tiny place along the Italian coast. From that moment on we are treated to a lovely story that reveals itself through a great cast of characters all telling their part and/or their connection to Pasquale and Dee. It’s simply wonderful.
There are perhaps 2 or 3 chapters in there that didn’t hold as much appeal as the others did, but the ending sure does sing and the rest of the book more than makes up for a few, somewhat boring chapters! 4 stars.
However, I still want to put out there that one of the best stories I’ve read this summer was Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (my review here). If you haven’t had the chance to pick this one up yet, you really should remedy that soon! And, yes…Beautiful Ruins too. Hurry though, as summer has now officially come to its end with the Labour Day weekend passing, but it will still make for a great way to spend a weekend reading before the outdoor furniture has to be put away in storage.
Synopsis: 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. (from HarperCollins Canada)