I’ve just returned from a staycation during which I read the beguiling Beautiful Ruins by American author Jess Walter. Walter began his career as a journalist writing for Newsweek, Washington Post and Boston Globe. He covered the Ruby Ridge case and wrote a book on it titled Every Knee Shall Bow. His book The Zero was long listed for the National Book Award and there are plans to turn another of his novels into a movie under the direction of Michael Winterbottom.
Beautiful Ruins opens in 1962 when a young actress, Dee Moray, arrives on the island of Porto Vergogna observed by the young hotelier Pasquale. She has arrived in this deserted town from the set of Cleopatra because she has just been diagnosed with stomach cancer. She is to wait in the hotel until her lover will come to collect her and take her to Switzerland for treatment. A friendship develops between Dee and Pasquale, which is cut short by her departure but 50 years on the elderly Italian gentleman, appears in LA to find her.
The book flits between 1962 and modern day, illuminating what has happened in the intervening years and following a cast of characters whose lives intertwine. Dee’s son Pat is a failed rock star who is unaware of his starry lineage. The film producer Michael Deane is searching for the project that will revamp his career and his assistant Clare is wondering if she will every get the chance to produce the movies she has always dreamed of making or to change career path. Young scriptwriter Shane has been given the opportunity to pitch his movie idea about the cannibalistic Donner party. All the characters are on their last, last chance of turning their lives around. Included in this cast, Burton and Taylor also make an appearance with Burton playing the part of Moray’s lover at the beginning of his relationship with Taylor.
Beautiful Ruins examines if love can truly survive through a lifetime apart. It is a mystery and a love story all rolled into one. Set amid the shadow of the epic Cleopatra, the novel took Walter 15 years to write. It was worth the wait.
Beautiful Ruins is published in paperback from Penguin Ireland
Review by LAW