Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Pre(r)amble: I finished this book in the middle of the night. I was on the last chapter homestretch and couldn’t stop. By the time I finished, everyone was asleep and I had no one to turn to for comfort. I had to take a moment, a hand-to-my-heart-audible-sigh kind of moment. The next day, I shipped my copy out to my mom and demanded she read it right away, the first in a long list of lenders I’m planning to forcefully recommend this book to…

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins is, appropriately, a very beautiful novel.  I often categorize a great book by it’s ability to capture my attention. The faster I read it, the better it must be. There have been novels that I practically inhale in one sitting because I just HAVE to find out what happens as quickly as possible. But there is also another kind of story that is often overlooked. The kind of story that you savour page by page.  Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is one of those stories. A page-turner in it’s own right, but like a delicious meal, it’s one that you don’t want to rush.

Beautiful Ruins is a page-turner in it’s own right, but like a delicious meal, it’s one that you don’t want to rush.

In 1963 Italy, a young hotelier becomes entwined in a life-changing circumstance with a one-time Hollywood starlet, a wily film producer and Richard Burton himself. Beginning during the filming of classic 20th Century train wreck Cleopatra, Beautiful Ruins spans a lifetime, jumping from the 60s to the present and the years in between. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular character’s P.O.V, slowly piecing together the lives of many different people, sometimes decades apart. I wondered how all these threads would work themselves together and was more than satisfied when they did (hence the hand-heart-sigh reaction). Exploring a host of characters from all different walks of life, Walter is superb in highlighting their many strengths and vulnerabilities with the humour, endearment and sorrow that accompanies one’s life story. It has the sleepy ambiance of the Italian coast, the extravagance of Old Hollywood, and the farcical face of new Hollywood serving as a backdrop for a story about love, choices, and the fruitful memories of a life lived. Just beautiful.

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