Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Book Review: Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins
Jess Walter

In his next novel, after The Financial Lives of Poets, Jess Walter offers us an engaging story, titled Beautiful Ruins, spanning fifty years in glamorous and exotic locales including Rome, Porto Vergogna, and Hollywood. The reader, at first, wonders why a young Hollywood starlet would flee the larger-than-life Roman movie set of Cleopatra (1962) and sail to a remote fishing village on the steep western coast of Italy. What do the working class locals, including a love-struck innkeeper, think of such a bizarre arrival? How does this connect with Hollywood operatives decades later?

This literary novel, while not a thriller, captures the reader’s attention and imagination and holds both to the end. Themes of ruined beauty are gorgeously developed throughout—especially the coastal villages of Cinque Terre where colorfully painted small buildings are stacked and packed so steeply and precariously onto rocky cliffs that one can imagine them slipping into the Mediterranean Sea at any moment. While the novel is primarily literary, Walter still includes many madcap hijinks and unexpected coincidences to delight the reader. Not much of the plot and character development can be said here without creating spoilers. Fans of John Irving, Peter Lefcourt, and Nick Hornby will not want to miss Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins.

A coastal village in Cinque Terre.
Photo courtesy of David Blake
[Several days ago, NPR’s Maureen Corrigan touted Beautiful Ruins as her top fiction pick for 2012 in an edition of the radio show Fresh Air Weekend: Critics’ Picks for 2012. (Should you select the audio link, the book reviews begin at the 18:00 mark.)]

This review is only one of the many Birmingham Public Library staff reviews compiled in our recent publication, Books for All Seasons 2013. Be sure to pick up this gift at the nearest Birmingham Public Library location while supplies last.

Should you ever have the good fortune to visit Italy, consider spending two or three days in the unbelievably picturesque Cinque Terre. It is an easy side trip from Florence or Pisa by train.

Buon Capodanno! (Happy New Year!)

Submitted by David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library

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