Monday 16 September 2013



The No. 1 New York Times Bestseller

Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins is a gorgeous, glamorous novel set in 1960s Italy and a modern Hollywood studio.

The story begins in 1962. Somewhere on a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and views an apparition: a beautiful woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an American starlet, he soon learns, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away in Hollywood, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot searching for the woman he last saw at his hotel fifty years before.

Gloriously inventive, funny, tender and constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a novel full of fabulous and yet very flawed people, all of them striving towards another sort of life, a future that is both delightful and yet, tantalizingly, seems just out of reach.

'Magic...A monument to crazy love with a deeply romantic heart' New York Times

'A novel shot in sparkly Technicolor' Booklist

'Hilarious and compelling' Esquire

'Beautiful Ruins is a novel unlike any other you're likely to read this year' Nick Hornby, The Believer

"Why mince words? Beautiful Ruins is an absolute masterpiece."
Richard Russo   

I read one of Walter’s previous novels about 3 or 4 years ago – Citizen Vince and absolutely loved it. His latest, Beautiful Ruins was bought for me by my wife back in July as a present; though in actual fact she read it before me. It would be fair to say she enjoyed it immensely.  

Having only previously read the one book by the author which was fairly well entrenched in the crime fiction genre, I’m unsure if Walter has departed from “crime” before this novel or not. To worry about labelling it I suppose is irrelevant. I’d rather read a well written novel with no criminal undertones than a poorly written, unsatisfying police procedural.    

Love, romance, celebrity, Hollywood, Cleopatra, Richard Burton, war, illness, family, death, control, substance abuse, screenwriting, hotelry, tourism, Italy, dreams, passion, responsibility, forgiveness and hope all figure throughout this charming tale.

Could a brief, unspoken, unacknowledged spark of romance in Italy in 1962, still flicker and prevail across fifty years and separate lives lived before finally igniting?

Read it yourself and find out.

Overall, Walter’s book was for me interesting, enjoyable and entertaining and at its conclusion fairly satisfying. Hand on heart, it didn’t quite reach the high spots that I had hoped for, but it could be me being picky. (Citizen Vince ticked a box or two more!) Reminded me in parts of the film Letters To Juliet, with a bit less treacle and slightly less sugar.

I have 3 or 4 more books by the author that I will hope to get to in the next year or two.

4 stars from 5  

My copy was purchased new for me from Waterstones as a present.  


  1. Col, I agree with your point that any well written novel is enjoyable whether crime fiction or not, but I usually won't try books outside of the crime fiction genre unless I have a good reason to believe I will enjoy it. Even when I read science fiction or fantasy, I like it to have some element of mystery. Partly it is a problem of too little time to take a chance. Probably my loss, but there is is.

    Given all of that, this does sound interesting, with the Hollywood connections. I love movies and movie history.

    I enjoyed your evaluation of this book and your honesty.

    1. Tracy, I think you would enjoy it if you read it. I would probably defy anyone not to get some satisfaction from it.

      I do like to read outside the "crime" genre now and again, but I couldn't go through life only reading this type of book.

  2. I've got this one lined up on my Kindle, so have only skimmed your review. I think I bought it because you featured the cover a while back and I thought it was a really great image! Not always a sensible reason to buy a book, but this sounded worth a shot. I'm looking forward to it - I wanted to read it straight away when I bought it, but life has intervened...

    1. Moira, I reckon you'll love this. The cover is fantastic though I would probably have bought it anyway, even if my wife hadn't if it was rubbish. I'll look forward to your musings, when you eventually get there!

  3. Col - Thanks for the fine review. I've been wanting to read this one but hadn't gotten to it yet. Looks like it's something nice to look forward to reading.

    1. Margot. I think you would definitely enjoy this one, sometime soon I hope!