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June 28, 2012 / Leslie

Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins by Jess WalterBeautiful Ruins
by Jess Walter

Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper
Publish Date: June 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover | 352 pages
Rating: 5 of 5

Pasquale Tursi, owner of the Hotel Adequate View in the remote, secluded coastal village of Porto Vergogna, Italy, was amazed to see a beautiful woman arriving by boat. It was 1962 and she was an American actress, Dee Moray, working on the movie Cleopatra. She was sick, dying she thought, and had been sent there by the movie’s production assistant, Michael Deane, for a few days before continuing on to Switzerland for treatment. But Dee wasn’t sick, she was pregnant.

Fifty years later in Los Angeles, Pasquale Tursi is searching for Dee Moray. He finds Michael Deane’s studio and his assistant, Claire, who thinks he is there to pitch a movie, but she soon realizes the story he is telling her is real life.

We alternate between the events in Italy 50 years ago and the present day Los Angeles, with a few chapters taking place in the 70s. There are several different points of view and a multitude of characters. Most of these characters are flawed, tragically flawed, and for all their faults I still liked them and cheered for them like I would for an underdog. The writing is beautiful. At times funny, other times sad, but always compelling and engaging.

This is a difficult book to describe. There is so much going on but it is all seamlessly woven together. We easily transition between characters and time and place. Most fascinating are the stories within the story. There is a writer staying at the hotel in Italy in 1962; he is writing a book on his life story but in seven years he has only written one chapter. There is the aspiring screen writer in present day Los Angeles pitching his movie, The Donner Party, a story about cannibalism that is so bad it’s good, which Michael Deane pretends to like. And finally, the first chapter of Michael Deane’s Memoir, a fascinating account of 1960’s Hollywood and events on the set of Cleopatra, but the lawyers say he can’t publish it. We get to read each of these stories as a chapter mixed within the book. Eventually all are relevant to the bigger picture.

In the end, the pieces come together. We learn what happens to all the characters, loose ends are tied up, and the reader is left satisfied. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. There is also an absolutely gorgeous cover, a painting of the sun drenched Italian coastline, every bit as beautiful as the story itself. Highly recommended.

About the Author

Jess Walter is the author of five novels, including The Zero, a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award, and Citizen Vince, winner of the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel. He has been a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize and the PEN USA Literary Prize in both fiction and nonfiction.
His books have been New York Times, Washington Post, and NPR best books of the year and have been translated into twenty languages. He lives in Spokane, Washington.

Visit Jess Walter’s website.

Click HERE for the tour schedule.

Source: Review copy.
© 2012 Under My Apple Tree. All rights reserved.



Leave a Comment
  1. Mary / Jun 28 2012 6:01 am

    Glad you loved it. It’s near the top of my review stack so I hope to read it very soon.


    • Leslie / Jun 28 2012 7:50 am

      Yes, read it soon before you see too many reviews. There are some parts that are not exactly spoilers, but the story is better if you don’t know them.


  2. Diane@BibliophilebytheSea / Jun 28 2012 6:20 am

    yay….I was anxious to read this and now your review confirms my excitement. Thanks for sharing your thoughts — sounds good.


    • Leslie / Jun 28 2012 7:47 am

      I liked it so much I was having difficulty writing the review! I had all these random notes and points to touch on and in the end, I made it simple rather than spoil it by giving too much away.


  3. Leeswammes / Jun 28 2012 6:33 am

    I’ve had my eye on that book for a while. Glad you liked it so much – I’m convinced now.


    • Leslie / Jun 28 2012 7:53 am

      Great! You’ll love it. I’m almost positive.


  4. Sheila (Book Journey) / Jun 28 2012 7:10 am

    Sounds like a good read!


    • Leslie / Jun 28 2012 7:56 am

      Wonderful book. And I’d recommend print rather than trying to go with audio, just because of the way the book is laid out. Audio would probably make a great re-read for me though.Just had to through that in!


  5. BermudaOnion / Jun 28 2012 7:24 am

    This is the second review I’ve read of this book and both of them were glowing! I need to get a copy of it!


    • Leslie / Jun 28 2012 7:57 am

      I can’t believe you don’t have this one already! Yes, definitely get a copy. It’s a beautiful book.


  6. Bonnie (@missbonnie13) / Jun 28 2012 10:11 am

    I’ve been so excited for this one, glad to know you loved it. 🙂


  7. Suko / Jun 28 2012 12:20 pm

    I will keep this book in mind, since you enjoyed it so much. Wonderful review! 🙂


  8. epkwrsmith / Jun 28 2012 12:36 pm

    I’ve seen this one popping up everywhere…will have to check it out 🙂


  9. Heather J. @ TLC / Jun 29 2012 12:40 pm

    It certainly does sound like there is a LOT going on in this book so I’m glad to know that the author meshes it all together so well.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!



  1. Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins, on tour June 2012 | TLC Book Tours
  2. 2012 Reading Round-Up « Under My Apple Tree

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