Friday, September 20, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Books: Beautiful Ruins

BEAUTIFUL RUINS by Jesse Walter does a very smooth job of juggling multiple narratives set in multiple time periods. We always know where we are and whom we are with. The prose is elegant, the scenes in Italy inviting. If that small village doesn't exist, it should thanks to the writing here.

The disaster that was CLEOPATRA was being made in the main narrative. A young actress in the film, believing herself to be dying, comes to a remote island where she is tended to by Pasquale, a young Italian hotel owner of a hotel so small that she is the only guest. Other stories intersect with this one.(Richard Burton is a minor player that we never see without a bottle in his hand. Surely we have something else to learn about him).Pasquale is being shaken down for protection money, but this story is also not developed.

Unfortunately many of the other minor characters in BEAUTIFUL RUINS didn't capture my interest and I was anxious to get back to the primary story rather than these less interesting ones.The book I would have loved would have focused on the young actress, the young hotel owner, and the circumstances of 1962. Of course it was not my story to tell.

We see the actress at various points in her life, but because they are not chronological it is often hard to invest in them. We also come to know her son, an producer's assistant, a writer trying to pitch a story, the producer himself who meddles again and again to disastrous consequences. Flash forward into the future and the romanticism of that small island in Italy is lost. If Hollywood is supposed to come alive, it never does. We know just how venal Hollywood is from so many other examinations. And the scenes in Spokane are even less involving.

This was certainly far from a bad book. But the pages didn't turn effortlessly.
I listened to this on audio. Perhaps that distanced me. Reading a print book always works best for me.


Margot Kinberg said...

Your post reminds me of how important it is that the characters keep our attention, Patti. I admit I've not read this one, but I can see how it left you a bit disappointed.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Too bad. I liked his earlier OVER TUMBLED GRAVES and CITIZEN VINCE.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

I read Citizen Vince a few years back and enjoyed it but haven't read anything else by him since. I'll probably pass on this one.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Looking at the reviews on amazon, I think I am in the minority opinion.

Rick Robinson said...

I have that same distancing problem with audiobooks, which is why I rarely listen to one.

George said...

I'll track down a copy and check it out.