Beautiful Ruins: A Novel

Beautiful Ruins: A Novel

3.8 318
by Jess Walter

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From the moment it opens—on a rocky patch of Italian coastline, circa 1962, when a daydreaming young innkeeper looks out over the water and spies a mysterious woman approaching him on a boat—Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry


From the moment it opens—on a rocky patch of Italian coastline, circa 1962, when a daydreaming young innkeeper looks out over the water and spies a mysterious woman approaching him on a boat—Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to the back lots of contemporary Hollywood, Beautiful Ruins is gloriously inventive and constantly surprising—a story of flawed yet fascinating people navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

Editorial Reviews

Richard Russo
“Why mince words? Beautiful Ruins is an absolute masterpiece.”
Daniel Handler
“This is a blockbuster, with romance, majesty, comedy, smarts, and a cast of thousands. There’s lights, there’s camera, there’s action. If you want anything more from a novel than Jess Walter gives you in Beautiful Ruins, you’re getting thrown out of the theater.”
Ben Fountain
“[N]othing less than brilliant, a tour de force that crosses decades, continents, and genres, to powerful and often hilarious effect....A masterful novel of love, loss, and hard-won hope that satisfies on every level.”
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
“Within a page-turner of a plot, these triumphantly vulnerable characters leap off the page to take up permanent residence in your inner life. The effect is so powerful that to be untouched by Beautiful Ruins might well be like having no inner life at all.”
Huffington Post
“A marvel, an absolute gem of a beach read that is both hilarious and heartbreaking.”
“Walter vividly draws a world both tender and cutthroat, where ambition battles reality, daydreams fight doldrums and sometimes win.”
Kansas City Star
“Lyrical, heartbreaking, and funny . . . Walter closes the deal with such command that you begin to wonder why up till now he’s not often been mentioned as one of the best novelists around. Beautiful Ruins might just correct that oversight.”
New York Times
“A monument to crazy love . . . Walter [is] a believer in capricious destiny with a fine, freewheeling sense of humor.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Expertly scratches the seasonal itch for both literary depth and dazzle.”
Boston Globe
“A novel with pathos, piercing wit and, most important, the generous soul of a literary classic. . . . Walter has planted himself firmly in the first rank of American authors.”
The Plain Dealer
“Beautiful . . . A shining, imaginative tale . . . Beautiful Ruins shows novelists how it is done.”
Maureen Corrigan
“A literary miracle.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“His [Walter’s] characters are long-suffering, prone to failure and sometimes at death’s door. But the verve and enthusiasm of this novel, from its let’s-go-everywhere structure to the comedy in the marrow of its sentences, are wholly life-affirming.”
“A great getaway of a novel.”
The Stranger
Beautiful Ruins is satisfying and delicate, a spectacular story of love, frustration, selfish intent, and the patience of the human heart.”
New York Times Book Review
“[A] high-wire feat of bravura storytelling. . . . [Walter’s] mixture of pathos and comedy stirs the heart and amuses as it also rescues us from the all too human pain that is the motor of this complex and ever-evolving novel.”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“A beautiful narrative . . . This writer is a genius of the modern American moment.”
“His masterpiece . . . an interlocking, continent-hopping, decade-spanning novel with heart and pathos to burn, all big dreams, lost loves, deep longings and damn near perfect.”
“Walter is a very, very funny writer and can do Hollywood satire with the best of them. But this is also a novel with a live, beating heart, full of sympathy for its characters and agut wisdom…You’ll want to explore these Ruins.”
Selma Blair
“It is a powerful and lush book.”
Nashville Scene
Beautiful Runs is itself a showcase for Walter’s outrageous literary gifts in virtually every genre and style. . .No wonder critics have been outdoing each other with superlatives. . .”
Paula McLain
“[An] enchanting novel. . . Sweeping effortlessly back and forth between Italy and current-day Hollywood, and between various modes of storytelling, Walters builds a world that won’t soon let you go.”
Becky Aikman
“Combines satisfying, old-fashioned storytelling with a modern sensibility.”
Publishers Weekly
“Well-constructed…quirky and entertaining tale of greed, treachery, and love.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A brilliant, madcap meditation on fate. . . . Walter’s prose is a joy-funny, brash, witty and rich with ironic twists. He’s taken all of the tricks of the postmodern novel and scoured out the cynicism, making for a novel that’s life-affirming but never saccharine.”
Janet Maslin
As with any story that relies on scrambled chronology, it's worth wondering how Beautiful Ruins would work as a straightforward narrative. Not as well. Moments of confusion would vanish, but so would the magic. Mr. Walter…has always been more intuitive than linear, a believer in capricious destiny with a fine, freewheeling sense of humor. The deeply romantic heart of Beautiful Ruins is better expressed by constant circling than it would by any head-on approach.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
Hollywood operators and creative washouts collide across five decades and two continents in a brilliant, madcap meditation on fate. The sixth novel by Walter (The Financial Lives of the Poets, 2009, etc.) opens in April 1962 with the arrival of starlet Dee Moray in a flyspeck Italian resort town. Dee is supposed to be filming the Liz Taylor-Richard Burton costume epic Cleopatra, but her inconvenient pregnancy (by Burton) has prompted the studio to tuck her away. A smitten young man, Pasquale, runs the small hotel where she's hidden, and he's contemptuous of the studio lackey, Michael Deane, charged with keeping Dee out of sight. From there the story sprays out in multiple directions, shifting time and perspective to follow Deane's evolution into a Robert Evans-style mogul; Dee's hapless aging-punk son; an alcoholic World War II vet who settles into Pasquale's hotel to peck away at a novel; and a young screenwriter eagerly pitching a dour movie about the Donner Party. Much of the pleasure of the novel comes from watching Walter ingeniously zip back and forth to connect these loose strands, but it largely succeeds on the comic energy of its prose and the liveliness of its characters. A theme that bubbles under the story is the variety of ways real life energizes great art--Walter intersperses excerpts from his characters' plays, memoirs, film treatments and novels to show how their pasts inform their best work. Unlikely coincidences abound, but they feel less like plot contrivances than ways to serve a broader theme about how the unlikely, unplanned moments in our lives are the most meaningful ones. And simply put, Walter's prose is a joy--funny, brash, witty and rich with ironic twists. He's taken all of the tricks of the postmodern novel and scoured out the cynicism, making for a novel that's life-affirming but never saccharine. A superb romp.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
4.40(w) x 7.00(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Jess Walter is the author of six novels, including the bestsellers Beautiful Ruins and The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, the winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. His short fiction has appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, and Playboy, as well as The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. He lives in his hometown of Spokane, Washington.

Brief Biography

Spokane, Washington
Date of Birth:
July 20, 1965
Place of Birth:
Spokane, Washington
B.A., Eastern Washington University, 1987

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The Beautiful Ruins 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 318 reviews.
JanTX More than 1 year ago
I work in a bookstore, go through books like water, and share all kinds of recommendations with customers. I read British and Scandinavian mysteries, heavier novels like "Freedom," literate non-fiction---generally, everything from best-sellers to classics. So I'm not a book snob, but don't tend to read the lightest of light, either. I loved the Dragon Tattoo series, and all of Elizabeth Strout's books. Sometimes I plow through rewarding, beautifully written books. But I do tend to whine a bit about this question--why can't authors write books that are entertaining, with mesmerizing characters, interesting settings, relationships between people that are real, flawed, but occasionally deep, and compassionate?.A story that makes me laugh, blink with recognition, and want to cheer out loud for the characters? But where the story doesn't pretend life is not what it really is, either, so that I can't believe it. Then I picked up Beautiful Ruins. And there it was. Buy this book, savor it, and encourage Jess Walters to keep writing.
lindianajones More than 1 year ago
This is a novel of utmost grace and beauty. It spans the decades from World War 2 to present day. It leads you lyrically through Italy and the United States. It trips through the automobile industry, the film industry and the writing industry. It drives you through learning Italian, teaching Drama and living your life. It takes you from the bottom of the worst bits of life to the peak of the ultimate best parts. A wonderfully delicious novel for all five senses. I read this book in two days, unable to put it down. Well worth the buzz it is getting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a voracious reader-at least two books a week. I loved this book-it is the best work of fiction I've read all year. It was beautifully written with wonderfully developed characters. It was one of those novels that you're sad to see end. I will be looking for other works by Jess Walter.
OurBookAddiction More than 1 year ago
As usual I’m in the minority of the glowing reviews on this. I’m having a serious problem with rating this book. For starters, I read it all in one day so I was engaged in the story. I didn’t even mind so much the back and forth between time as it was necessary to the storyline. But I do take issue with writers who feel the need to fill pages up with unnecessary writing. Examples – Alvis, the wanna-be-writer that goes to the hotel each year to write more of his book. Leaves behind what he has written so far and then we have to read the entire thing within the book? Shane, the wanna-be-screenwriter who along with reading in detail the “pitch” for the screenplay, we have to actually read the entire pages of the pitch also. This kind of fluff irritates me greatly in books. A writer needs to keep the story tight and not meander off because that is how you lose a reader. It is usually at this point where disengaged readers chuck the book to the bedside never to be picked up again. I found myself skimming through all that as I heard the voices of the parents on Charlie Brown in the back of my head saying “wok, wok, wok, wok, wok…” But when all this wasn’t going on, I did enjoy the book. So I’m giving it a solid 3 which by Goodreads standards means “I liked it”. In my mind though, it could have been a 4 or 5 if we weren’t dragged through unnecessary details. Those parts were just painful to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
On the surface it's a bubbly, summery tale about Hollywood and Italy in the 60s and currently; underneath it's a lovely and timeless reflection on love and life and desire and duty. Good stuff.
NahvilleReader More than 1 year ago
I almost put this book down without finishing it. It seemed disjointed when I wanted it to continue the story it was teling in the beginning. Sticking with it will reward you with a good story interwoven well together. It was an enjoyable read.
silencedogoodreturns More than 1 year ago
wow! Found this book by accident...admit I started reading based on cover picture and Mediterranean scenery. But I actually discovered an amazing book that was a very real delight and pleasure to read. A great story of human feelings, behaviours, failings and living life, all played out against a background of a small town Italian dreamer and Hollywood. And what an inspiration by the author to make Richard Burton of all people a key piece of a fictional story. Try this book, you won't be disappointed, you'll love it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Timeless recognition of life, human intentions, . I adored this book and found it to be beautifully written. Wondrous visual verbiage creates a luscious landscape for your imagination. I enjoyed the raw emotion felt and shown through each character. Being so much involved with film and theater towards the end, the last chapter's layout was not my favorite but relevant to the format of storytelling in the latter half of the novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful Ruins is so aptly named. In turns tragic and poignant but still romantically ideal, from the lovely settings to the perfectly formed characters. I highly recommend.
tetonpilates More than 1 year ago
A sweet, poignant mixed up story that does more than tell of people's intertwined lives.  It paints their lives with both the bold sweeps of successes and the dark tones of failures; the ruins aren't ugly at all.  I love the characters and how the author keeps moving the tale forward, sometimes jumping decades but then taking us back to the place we first met the protagonist and the others.  Intelligent writing, terrific descriptions, engaging characters.  Five stars easily. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. The switching back and forth between areas, times, and people was a first a bit confusing but I couldn't put the book down after I became comfortable with the characters and places. I love the mention of the different places in Italy. It's made me curious enough to check out some of these places in the future. I also enjoyed reading about the seedy side to the industry in Hollywood. I wouldn't doubt that a similar situation could have occurred as was described in the scandal laid out in this story. Very fun read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is well written and a fast read. The characters are likable and it is interesting to find out how their lives are connected.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a great story.. although i must admit was a tad frustrating at the onset, going back and forth between eras... BUT kept me reading avidly for my vacation at the beach ! A must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had heard great reviews on the book that's why I purchased it. It was a nice read, nice story but that was about it. I found it a little slow.
reader67 More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written. A true joy to read. You become immersed in the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I chose to read this book because of the setting. While it was enjoyable I also found it took quite a while to "come together". Great idea for a storyline....could have been executed a little better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An actress who had a supporting role in the filming of Cleopatra arrives at a very remote town, only assessable by boat, along the Italian coast. This sets up a sequence of events that unfold over fifty years ending up in Hollywood. At times, very well written, cleverly satirical, poignant (specially the ending). Unfortunately, other chapters are over the top satirical or dwell on basically crude behavior. Worth reading, but be prepared for a mixed bag.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I very much enjoyed this book. The timeline is a little jumpy, and all the characters are lovable! Very touching finish. Iwould and did recommend :)
kalevala More than 1 year ago
Also a voracious reader of what I consider good literature, I loved this book! Spans WW II in Italy through modern times and includes the 1960s and the era of the big production movies. The characters are interesting, and interwoven. The prose is enjoyable. This is a sophisticated piece. The characters will remain with you! All I can say is "Richard Burton" (no, not Richard Parker!)
MattCH More than 1 year ago
This book is absolutely astounding. It is near countless interwoven stories of seemingly unlinked lives that span across five decade and come together - influencing each aspect of the story - in a way that flows completely naturally, but with no shortage of great surprise. The language is beautiful. The relationships are complex, but the emotions that hold them together are simple. Highly recommended.
Ravenclaw226 More than 1 year ago
So I know I'm kind of late to the Beautiful Ruins party, however I must say to anyone who still has not read it that you really should! I will be honest, at first I found the constant time switches a bit hard to negotiate as one chapter you will be in this little Italian town in the 60's then you'll fast forward to a completely different set of characters in the present. However moving past that, the whole charm of this book is the related content between all these moments in time, characters from the 60's or from the modern day, a soldier from the last world war, all of their story lines become intertwined into this beautiful tale of love and stories. "Stories are people. I'm a story, you're a story...your father is a story. Our stories go in every direction, but sometimes, if we're lucky, our stories join into one, and for a while, we're less alone." So if you are looking for a light summer read for the beach, or a good book for your book club, or just want something that isn't so heavy to sit and enjoy, make sure to grab this next time you are out shopping!
Katykins More than 1 year ago
Cant get into it. Makes no sense to me at all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this book sucked, no plot, boring characters and terrible ending. the description on the back made it look great but is was truly awful I would never recommend it ever
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Characters were poorly developed and didn't generate reader sympathy. I couldn't have cared less what happened to them. Some interesting incidents, but not enough to keep me fully engaged, and by emphasizing Hollywood-based characters and issues the author didn't need to utilize his own imagination as much as if he had written a truly original story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Truly, I loved every word! So sad it had to end.