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Beautiful Ruins

“Words and emotions are simple currencies. If we inflate them, they lose their value, just like money. They begin to mean nothing”

Beautiful Ruins ~ Jess Walter

How do I say this without offending too many people who were delightfully startled by the book; alright I’ll give it a go “I couldn’t wait for the book to end”. The book started off well with a description of a humble life on a fictitious untouched Italian coastal town. It had the makings of a breezy idyllic tale about an impossible love story between a young Italian man (Pasquale) and a beautiful struggling American actress (Dee Moray). However, the reader is quickly jolted out of it in the following chapters to present day Hollywood and a jumble of complicated characters, some of whose purpose in the book I frankly cannot explain.

In a nutshell, if I may – the story is multi-generational, following the lives of the main characters (the American actress and an Italian man) who meet when she lands up in his remote village to get away from the prying eyes of the media. The other characters have some part to play in the story as the author plunges into the future; with the actress’ now adult son making poor life choices over and over again. The narrative arches entirely towards the predictable end when all these characters meet, which again doesn’t surprise, shock or sadden.

Perhaps what I cringed at most was the last chapter; which was written like a roll-call montage of the happy endings of all these characters, who apparently suddenly begin to make the right decisions and start turning their lives around.

Dee Moray: “This is a story about my life, my decision to use my unearthly good looks to make every man who I meet, fall in love with me”

Pasquale: Yes. You beautiful bella. Last three days is lovely time with you. Forget me not

Richard Burton: This diamond has so many carats it’s almost a turnip

Reader: What! Where did Dick Burton come from?!

Why you should read it:

  • A very engaging character in the book – Alvis Bender; an ageing writer who never finished his book
  • Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor have some fictitious part to play
  • It apparently took Jess Walter fifteen years to write the book
  • A peek into the backstage washed-up lives of Hollywood want-to-make-big-againers

Why you shouldn’t read it:

  • You never seem to settle down with one part of the story. Just when you think you’re getting along with a character, they either do something unthinkably stupid or are torn away from you
  • Too many coincidences to make it entirely believable