Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins: A Novel
Jess Walter
a copy of this novel was provided by the publisher through TLC Book Tours

Beautiful Ruins opens in April, 1962, with the arrival of a beautiful American starlet in Porto Vergogna, Italy--Italian for "port of shame," and known locally as the "Whore's Crack." Standing chest-deep in the Ligurian Sea, Pasquale Tursi watches the arrival of the beautiful American, dreaming that his tiny hotel, called "The Adequate View" will become a destinazione turistica primaria.
Then she smiled, and in that instant, if such a thing were possible, Pasquale fell in love, and he would remain in love for the rest of his life--not so much with the woman,whom he didn't even know, but with the moment.
The story begins again in the Hollywood of today: a world replete with celebrity culture, absurdist reality television, the world of the pitch, and a legendary film producer who was once a publicist for the disastrous 1963 production of Cleopatra. Pasquale Tursi shows up at the legendary producer's office, looking for the starlet who visited his hotel fifty years earlier.

Jess Walter, author of the 2009 novel The Financial Lives of the Poets has set off a freworks display of a novel--it is a bravura performance, and the writer's command of his craft is truly impressive. Walter used humor to great effect in The Financial Lives of the Poets, and Beautiful Ruins combines humor, satire, romance and tenderness. A chapter from a novel about World War II, the first chapter of the producer's unconsciously craven, despicable memoir, a synopsis of a movie pitch, and an except from a play are all written seamlessly into this rollicking novel. Walter's tour de force is the gorgeously written last chapter of the novel.

I read this novel in a little more than a day, completely absorbed. Walter constantly surprises his reader; one minute you are laughing, and the next you are close to tears.  It's almost impossible to enumerate the cast of characters and the ways in which they are connected (to attempt to do so would spoil too many plot surprises). Pasquale Tursi and Dee Moray, the American actress, are just two of the finely depicted and achingly real characters. Michael Deane, the publicist turned producer is a scumbag--and a hilarious send-up of the shallow, narcissistic creatures bred in Hollywood. There is a novelist who takes seven years to write one chapter, a charismatic musician with devastating charm, and many other characters, major and minor, who will captivate the reader.

Beautiful Ruins is s significan leap forward for Jess Walter, an impressive artistic achievement and a captivating read.

Jess Walter has a website at http://jesswalter.com/


bermudaonion said...

I've read several reviews of this book and every single one has raved about it. It's definitely on my wish list.

Amy said...

Bermudaonion, you haven't read my review. :-) I didn't hate it, I just felt it was uneven, and I didn't feel like he had full control over the material. Parts of it I liked a lot, though. But overall, I liked Financial Lives of the Poets more.

bibliophiliac said...

@bermudaonion-Beautiful Ruins was one of my favorites of the year....
@Amy-I will have to check out your review! I thought quite the opposite-that Walter had control over all the various blended genres and different time periods of the novel--but I will certainly be interested to read your thoughts!

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I've heard great things about Walter's books but haven't read any yet - sounds like I'm really missing out!

Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

Anonymous said...

I have a love-like relationship with this book. I'm eager to read more, because just when I'm disappointed by some bit of the book, I encounter heaps of great material. It's not yet his masterpiece, but I'm glad to have purchased it.

Nimo Seudo

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I really need to pick this one up, there's just something about it (maybe the setting?) that pulls me right in.

Lisa said...

I so enjoyed The Financial Lives of Poets and was concerned that this couldn't live up to that. But I loved this one!

IngridLola said...

I finished this book last night at 3:30 AM and couldn't go to sleep because I couldn't stop thinking about it! I loved Alvin Bender's chapter. He was such a pitiful character, wasn't he? Yet I think he was the best artist of them all.