Book Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins 042

What a cover!  Let’s go!
It’s the kind of book that starts off with a bang and you recommend
it to your sister and everyone you  know.

 A tourist boat arrives in Cinque Terre and we wish we were
the ones disembarking at the dock close to the cliffs.

We meet the best character in the book, Pasquale, the owner
of the Adequate View Hotel.  He is greeting an American film
actress who is in Italy to be part of the filming of Cleopatra.
Alas, she’s been diagnosed with cancer.

The little village, the fishermen and townspeople, Pasquale’s
friend, Orenzio–all ring true.  The first chapters are charming,
witty–building a tennis court on the cliffs? (because Pasquale
figures there’s not room for a golf course . . .)

And then, is it me?  Is it I?  things go a little flat–Hollywood
types barge into the book and my eyes glaze over.  This might
be the part where one of our book club members always says
the book is 50 pages too long!

The time and place shifts begin to annoy me.
The wild slew of characters ramble about.

“Eh!” I think, “maybe I won’t finish it.”

What saved me?  What kept me reading?  Pasquale.  I couldn’t get
past his great character, couldn’t forget him.

Jess Walter has a way with language, no doubt about it.  I can’t count
the number of “throwaway” lines in the book that are brilliant, on the
mark.  I would give examples, but I don’t want to spoil the unexpected
pleasure they bring when you find one.  Ok, one–describing a priest
with “his thin hair run with comb lines.”

And you know who’s in this book?  Richard Burton for heaven’s sake!
I told you it was a wild slew of characters.

In yet another time and place, the pace of the story picks up, enough
to save the book and this reader.   And then there was no doubt that
I would finish the book.

My book included an interview with the author.  We find out that this
book took fifteen years to write, to finish.   Maybe that’s why it felt a
little disjointed to me.  I wanted to be one of the “blurb people” who
raved about this book on the cover.  But I can’t quite join the club.

I loved a lot of Walter’s writing–his descriptions, his insights and his
piercing stabs of dialogue that hit the mark, that would surprise you.
And maybe he needed all those side plots to fill in the blanks, but–

There are an astounding array of male characters, and the author
has nailed each one.  The women?–one major, four minor characters–
are kind of vague–I don’t know them very well.

In a nutshell (ha, ha, ha) I think I like the book better now that I have
finished it and can think about it.  I’ll try another book by this author.

another storm and the snow is climbing up the windows . . .©booksandbuttons

another storm and the snow is climbing
up the windows . . .©booksandbuttons

 

 

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