Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This month the book which 'fell from the hat' is a bit more light-weight than recent reads. Enjoy the change!

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter – review from the Observer

Jess Walter's novel about an actress who escapes to a remote Italian village after filming Cleopatra in 1962 is an epic in itself. 

April 1962. Porto Vergogna, an Italian coastal town so small it's little more than a cluster of buildings "huddled like a herd of sleeping goats in a crease in the sheer cliffs". A young hotelier daydreaming about his future toils in the sun trying to turn a rocky outcrop into a beach. A boat appears on the horizon, sails towards him, and moors in the cove. Off steps a beautiful American actress, pressing a wide-brimmed hat to her head.

The actress is Dee Moray, fresh from filming Cleopatra in Rome, and supposedly dying of stomach cancer. She takes a room in Pasquale's hotel, and waits for the lover who's promised to meet her here, away from the paparazzi and the studio's publicity man. Jolted awake from his reveries, "a burst of clarity after a lifetime of sleep", for a few crazy days Pasquale plays a walk-on role in Dee's story, then she's gone again. Cut to 50 years later and an elderly Italian gentleman wearing a charcoal fedora turns up in Hollywood looking for a long since forgotten actress.

Everyone is a character in everyone else's script in this intricately plotted novel, however minor the role. Life imitates art, and art is drawn from life, while reality overlaps with fiction in the form of crowd-pulling appearances from Richard Burton and an offstage Elizabeth Taylor, the stars of Cleopatra. Walter creates an epic all of his own here – one that took him 15 years to write. The end result, however, is well worth the wait.

Lucy Scholes

The Observer

Saturday 1 June 2013


Jess Walter is the author of six novels, including The Financial Lives of the Poets, published by Penguin. Beautiful Ruins was a New York Times bestseller. Jess Walter lives in Spokane, Washington with his family.

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  • Laura

    I'm so sorry guys I'm not going to make it tonight, I'm just too tired after failing to get any sleep last night. I've only just got back from work. Also I've barely started the book so wouldn't have much to contribute! Hope to see you all soon xxxx

    December 2, 2013

  • David

    Rather brilliantly, someone has blocked the back entrance to Great Expectations with a car, so I can't get in! Hopefully he'll be back soon...

    December 2, 2013

    • Montgomery W.

      Oh, what a disaster! It is cold tonight. Just TOW HIM...

      December 2, 2013

    • David

      Wish I could! At least it's not raining...

      December 2, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I think someone is trying to tell me something!! I have got to work late and won't get back in time! Maybe 2014 will be my year, so sorry :-(

    December 2, 2013

    • Natalie A.

      Oh that sucks Bethany! Look forward to seeing you in the new year.

      December 2, 2013

  • Laura

    Yikes! The time has got away form me! I will have to read 100 pages a day to finish! Going to do my best though...

    2 · November 28, 2013

  • Catherine K.

    Right folks, we'll try an experiment this month. If more than 10 people turn up,as we're expecting, we'll split into 2 for the book discussion, and reconvene after an hour or so for a more social catch up and to choose the book for next month. Let's see how/if it works. So, the good news for the waiting list people is that you can come along, so get yourselves reading! Xxc

    November 23, 2013

  • Kat

    Just a suggestion, as I'd hate to miss meeting up with you guys and I'm on the waiting list, how about all who want to come to the pub come along, and we can split into two discussion groups if the body count is too high fora decent discussion? There's plenty of space at the Great Expectations to find different places to aggregate and discuss.

    2 · November 18, 2013

    • Montgomery W.

      I'm comfortable with the idea and would definitely be willing to be in the experimental overflow group.

      1 · November 19, 2013

    • Laura

      Yes I'm okay with it, we can still mix and mingle I expect!

      1 · November 19, 2013

  • Natalie A.

    Sorry for jumping in on this guys but Amazon have just announced their Best Books of 2013 and I wanted to let you know that the brilliant new book from Khaled Hosseini "And The Mountains Echoed" is only 99p on Kindle - I have no idea how long this will last so buy it while it lasts!!

    2 · November 19, 2013

    • Laura

      Ooh brill thanks Nat was planing to get this one on Kindle to read on holiday so will downoad it today! Great tip thanks! See you Friday :-)

      2 · November 19, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I've got a council meeting in guildford now so can't make it. Will be at the next one! (Christmas drinks though?)

    November 15, 2013

  • Montgomery W.

    Found out my mom read this book for her book club 3 months ago. That's why book clubs are so great: they bring families together.
    She generally likes most books, but said this one was only 'okay'.

    November 9, 2013

  • Natalie A.

    Sorry guys, don't have much info on this book because I'm not sure whether what I've read is going to give away secrets! I am struggling to update the background but will do this ASAP!

    2 · November 5, 2013

    • Catherine K.

      Hi Nats, I just logged on to do this and see you have been super efficient... I've added to the info, from a review in the Observer which doesn't give too much away. Thanks for getting this ball rolling! xxc

      1 · November 5, 2013

    • Natalie A.

      Thank you!

      1 · November 6, 2013

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