Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

I picked up Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins because I liked the front cover and needed something to arm me against the tedium of a six-hour return coach trip. Suffice to say I don’t remember the journey, mainly because I spent most of it immersed in a Ligurian love story (obviously the best kind).

Beautiful Ruins starts in 1962 in an isolated Italian village where a young hotelier has returned from his studies in Florence, to run his parent’s pensione with big dreams and a broken heart. His main occupation is creating a tennis court on a rocky outcrop surrounded by the Ligurian Sea, whilst trying to ensure the inn lives up to his father’s memory and its name: Hotel Adequate View.

Into this scene arrives a beautiful Hollywood starlet who has been filming on the set of Cleopatra, until she falls sick and, finding herself diagnosed with a terminal illness, is sent for rest and privacy in said remote Italian village.   

And then we are flung into 21st century Hollywood where, during the Friday screen pitches, the disillusioned Claire, chief development officer for the legendary film producer Michael Deane, meets Pasquale, an elderly Italian hotelier who is searching for an American starlet he first met 50 years ago.

Is it worth the read?

The premise may sound rather wonderfully light and frothy, a perfect end of summer read. But Walter writes a compelling novel. His wit is first class and he captures so beautifully the scope of a life lived; the trials, tribulations, the occasional joys and the faintly plaintive ‘what ifs’ that linger in all our hearts.

The novel is pacey and exuberant; sailing back and forth between protagonists, continents and eras; and the dénouement is tender and satisfying, bringing the disparate elements of the novel to a funny, moving and thoughtful end.  

Walter has created some very engaging characters and, while their backdrop may be almost epic in scope, their personal journeys are relatable and touching. I felt a genuine sense of bitter-sweet loss as I reached the last page, the sort you get as you head home after a perfect holiday.

Published by Penguin Putnam Inc. ISBN: 978-0-670-92265-9

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