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Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter


“The dying actress … wavered a moment in the boat’s stern, then extended a slender hand to grip the mahogany railing … All around her, shards of sunlight broke on the flickering waves.”

So starts the latest novel by American Jess Walter.  Here, glitz and glamour vie with remote, Italian coastal village life.  The threat of terminal cancer confronts infatuation and unrequited love.

That might sound serious stuff, but in fact this is an easy read for summer.  The story flits happily between Italy’s rugged Cinque Terre coastline  and glamorous Hollywood, with Idaho and Edinburgh thrown in too.  It moves fluidly  between  the early 1960s and  present day,  entwining a variety of characters along the way, including none less than Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

It features some beautiful language and some great humour, alongside an easily rolling plot. I love the early discourse on the harshness of the English language with “its random severity, the senseless brutality of it conjugations … unpredictable like a cross-bred dog”.  Spoken by an Italian, needless to say.  I have a feeling this book may have hoped to be a more serious literary work than it turned out.  It appears to start in a literary vein, but then the plot takes over and solemn writing aims are discarded.  Or maybe I was just engrossed and didn’t notice the grander intentions so much at the end.

Perfect holiday reading, especially if you’re visiting Italy, or if you’re interested in the machinations of Hollywood.

Linked to Travel Journey: Cinque Terre.

2 replies »

  1. I seldom read books due to the cover, but I love the American cover for this book. It’s so colorful and inviting and makes me want to read this book. I need to get it now!


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