In 1962, a dying young actress arrives in a boat at Pasquale’s small hotel off the Italian coast and immediately he is mesmerized by the beautiful American. Decades later, an old Italian man shows up at a Hollywood production office looking for an actress he once knew.
My brief synopsis above does not do this book justice. Beautiful Ruins is so full of rich and vibrant characters, lives and story lines that span the years. The dynamic locales that the novel takes place in whether it’s an Italian coast, Hollywood or Edinburgh seems to take on a life of its own. What may have been a complicated web of people and encounters, Walter has woven everyone’s lives seemingly effortlessly.
I thought the narrative was beautifully written. Walter has a way with words and in so many instances, his commentary on fame and happiness was especially poignant. The following quote, in particular, stood out to me.
“… about all those desperate entertainers giving out handbills in the streets, about the buskers and spires and churches and castles and cliffs, the scramble to get higher, to be seen, the cycle of creation and rebellion, everyone assuming they were saying something new or doing something new, something profound – when the truth was that it had all been done a million billion times.”
Admittedly, I felt the beginning a bit of a slower start, which may be why it took me a while to really get into the book but once I picked up on the alternating narrators and time periods, my interest was piqued. I now see what everyone loved about this book when it was first released and I can’t believe it has taken me this long to get to it. There are laughs and sorrows, and some surprising turn of events that the author didn’t take the typical bait on pursuing. The cover, while gorgeous, had given me the impression this would be more of a light vacation fun beach read but that is exactly why one should not judge a book by its cover. This story is so much more complex and deep than that – and it was fantastic.