BOOK REVIEW: Beautiful Ruins – by Jess Walter

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Title: Beautiful Ruins
Author: Jess Walter
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: June 2012
Finished reading: February 16th 2015
Pages: 337
Rating 3

“Stories are people. I’m a story, you’re a story… your father is a story. Our stories go in every direction, but sometimes, if we’re lucky, our stories join into one, and for a while, we’re less alone.”

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My copy of Beautiful Ruins had been collecting dust on my TBR pile for quite some time before I actually picked it up. When I first saw the cover, I had a flashback of my months living in Southern Italy. So when I found out the story was actually set in a small town along the Italian coastline I was immediately sold. I didn’t realize Jess Walter didn’t stick to the Italian 1962 setting and switches back and forth to contemporary Hollywood though. Those who know me, know I don’t like romance or Hollywood scenes for that matter. I guess that’s why that part of this book let me down; I just didn’t expect Beautiful Ruins to turn out that way. Still, the Italian chapters are interesting. In true historical fiction style, the chapters take you back to 1962 where Pasquale Tursi owns a small hotel and is surprised to have not one, but two American guests staying there at one point. One of them is a retired soldier and now writer (Alvis Bender), the other an actress (Dee Moore) who is sent away from a movie set in Rome when she became ill… The Hollywood chapters are full of cliches and not exactly to my liking; the Hollywood producer Michael Deane a despicable person and hard to relate to. In short, I’m having mixed feelings about this novel, but I guess it’s worth reading if you don’t mind historical fiction being mixed with contemporary Hollywood scenes and (cheesy) romance.

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It is 1962 and Pasquale Tursi is back running the only hotel in his small village after his father died. Porto Vergogna is too small to have any tourist attractions, but Pasquale dreams of changing his village into one American tourists would enjoy. An American writer, Alvis Bender, visits his hotel every year, but the young Italian wants more… Then one day his dreams seem to come true when a mysterious American woman shows up at his small beach. Dee Moore is an actress who is part of the Cleopatra movie currently being made in Rome, but she became sick on set… They sent her to Porto Vergogna to recover and wait for a special treatment in Switzerland. Pasquale starts to have feelings for the woman even though they have problems communicating, and doesn’t hesitate helping her when the producers seem to have forgotten Dee. He travels all the way to Rome to confront them, and soon finds out the truth about Dee’s disease…

Meanwhile in contemporary Hollywood, Claire is not happy with her current life. When she started working for famous producer Michael Deane, she didn’t expect to be making cheap TV programs instead of interesting movies… So when they offer her a job as a movie museum curator, she is highly tempted. Her stripclub visiting boyfriend is also getting on her nerves, and she is wondering whether she needs a fresh start… And that is when Shane and Pasquale turn up at the studio. Claire doesn’t know it yet, but her weekend is about to become way more interesting when her boss asks her to help him locate a ghost from the past…

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There is also a third storyline set in the UK that I’m not mentioning in the summary because of potential spoilers. What I can say is that this storyline adds some dept to the story and is definitely better than the Hollywood chapters. There were too many cliches used in Beautiful Ruins though, which is a shame because the story itself has a lot of potential. I especially enjoyed the chapters set in Italy; the way Jess Walter describes the scenery makes me want to pack my bags and travel to Italy straight away. Alvis and his unfinished book about his experiences in WWII are a welcoming distraction from the Hollywood scenes and I liked the fact that Jess Walter decided to include some Italian in his prose. (I found out I still remembered some of my crappy Italian, hurray!) In short, Beautiful Ruins is a nice novel to read if you like historical fiction and don’t mind a few cliches and Hollywood scenes… I guess it would be a perfect beach read.