Tuesday, December 23, 2014

437 (2014 #65). Beautiful Ruins

written by Jess Walter,
performed by Edoardo Ballerini

What an intricate story!

It begins in 1962, in a tiny coastal village in the Cinque Terre area of the Italian Riviera.  Pasquale Tursi is a young innkeeper, and Dee Moray is the young actress with a minor role in Cleopatra (being filmed in Rome) who arrives there, supposedly dying.

The story then moves to 2012, when an elderly Italian gentleman arrives in Hollywood looking for an aging actress.

The story moves back and forth between these time periods and others, introducing other characters (including Richard Burton), all of whom are connected in some way - it's pretty clear by the end.

I became interested in this book when it won the 2013 Audie Award for Solo Narration - Male; and was also a nominee for the award for Fiction and for Audiobook of the Year.  I saw the audiobook at my local public library and decided to try it.  Liked the book so much I bought a copy and also put the book on the discussion list for my book club next year.

I love the cover artwork of the print and audiobook - the image looks like an old, worn-out postcard.

In a question-and-answer session at the end of the audiobook, author Jess Walter says that writing Beautiful Ruins "was especially challenging...because of its braided stories, the intertwining of all those characters and those styles," which included a chapter from another novel set during World War II, a chapter from the memoir of a Hollywood producer, the script from a play, and a pitch for a movie set in 1846 - although I'm not quite sure why the latter was included.  The print book uses different typefaces for each of these.

Walter said he was inspired to write the book from a trip to the Cinque Terre in 1997, the year his mother died of cancer.  He worked on the novel for 15 years, writing four others in the meantime.  He says,
Pretty soon I began to see the book itself as a kind of celebration of storytelling in all those shapes and forms.  The beautiful ruins of the title mean a lot to me - the ruins of Italy, the ruins of Hollywood, the characters themselves.*  But also storytelling itself, which is a kind of lovely ruin for us.  There are these artifacts that we leave behind, the stories we tell about who we were and what we cared about.

(* One of the epigraphs at the beginning of the book quotes Louis Menard describing Richard Burton in 1980: "fifty-four at the time, and already a beautiful ruin, [he] was mesmerizing.")

Actor Edoardo Ballerini is fluent in Italian, but I do wish he or the producers had taken the time to learn how to properly pronounce Cle Ellum and Willamette - characters living in Seattle would not mispronounce them.  Nevertheless, he was an excellent narrator, most deserving of his award and nominations, who contributed greatly to my enjoyment of this book.

Definitely worth a re-read - which is why I bought a copy.  I will be purchasing the audiobook for my university library, as I'd liked to listen to it again too.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library, and I also bought a print copy from the local Friends of the Library book store.]

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