Audio Book Review ‘Beautiful Ruins’ by Jess Walter

Critics love this novel, named book of the year by several literary entities, it is a winner. I wish I liked the story, but I don’t.

Even I concede it is a literary masterpiece, author Jess Walter awakens the senses and provides amazing visuals of faraway places. The glowing praise for this book is pretty phenomenal. Yet, I cannot appreciate the story’s premise.

Although the book is a work of fiction, the author weaves the story around actual, implied situations and events that took place during the filming of Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Never fear, their tremulous eyebrow raising relationship is at the center and beyond, but the story isn’t really about their lives, but the influence they had on others that were not in their inner circle.

Not to oversimplify, because this is a complicated story, but the premise toys with the concept about the connectedness of individuals, originally, brought to our attention in the 1996 book, The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon by Craig Fass, Brian Turtle, and Mike Ginelli.

Because it entertained my mom, I enjoyed all of the hoopla concerning the relationship or affair between Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. So much so, I visited their vacation home outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where they filmed The Night of the Iguana. The relationship was not perfect, but had it been, the public would not have thought it nearly as interesting.

In Beautiful Ruins, the situation begins on a tiny Italian island where the young pregnant actress that Richard Burton has been sleeping with arrives believing she is terminal with cancer instead of pregnant. During her stay, a fondness develops between her and the young innkeeper,  Pasquale,and eventually over the span of half a century their fondness develops into a might have been relationship or romance.

Eventually, the actress, Dee Moray, learns she is carrying Richard Burton’s son and raises their troubled offspring alone. The son suffers from an array of addictions due to his mental instability and careless lifestyle.

The book is long and it has many characters, perhaps it is much better to read than to listen to the audio version as I did, but I found it confusing and chaotic.

In all fairness, maybe, I lack objectivity when speculative fiction demeans a person that has passed on. I ask why speculation is okay when you create a positive vision of the person, but not when the image is less than stellar. Unfortunately, I think that it is true, but unfair. My head and heart are at odds.

Published by Harper Perennial, Beautiful Ruins is available on Amazon and at other book retailers.

Review by Sammy Sutton


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