CBR-V Review #32: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

I’d been wanting to read this for a while, despite not knowing much about it. I knew it vaguely dealt with the filming of Cleopatra and, being a huge classic film buff, that was enough to sell me. The book actually doesn’t have too much to do with the famous movie, as it turns out, but it’s an excellent read nonetheless.

Beautiful Ruins jumps back and forth in time between 1960’s Italy and present-day Hollywood. In the past, a young Italian hotel owner is surprised by an unexpected guest: a beautiful actress who, as he soon discovers, is dying. Fifty years later, the same man arrives at a movie studio, searching for the woman he fell in love with long ago.

His is the central story of the novel, although those of minor characters–the Hollywood producer who promised the man a favor, the studio assistant with bigger dreams than producing crappy reality TV shows, the actress herself, and the actress’s lost-soul musician son–are woven in and out.

There’s a bit of everything in this novel: lots of romance, some tragedy, a bit of historical fiction, just enough humor to keep it light.  It’s a book to get lost in–I’m so in love with Italy, and Walter’s descriptions are totally enchanting and absolutely took me back. The “past” parts were by far my favorite, although the “present” sections were by no means boring.

My one complaint with this book–as lovely and enjoyable as it was–is that it didn’t leave a huge impression on me. I guess I like my books to have a little bit more meat, something I can take away from them, and this one was more light and fluffy than I would have expected.

It’s a great read though, and I would definitely recommend it when you’re in the mood for something to transport you for a few hours.

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