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.
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.