Beautiful Ruins: Discussion!


You would think the picture of coastal Italy on the cover would have tipped me off, but it didn’t. So when I read the first few paragraphs and saw I was dealing with an Italian man named Pasquale who may or may not endure an unrequited/tragic love, picture a perfectly executed forehead slap and shoulders drop combination. I really thought I had inadvertently picked The Shoemaker’s Wife, parte seconda.


Instead, it was a quirky multi-voice Hollywood epic about love (beautiful) and abandonment (ruins) and doing what is right in a world that is often very wrong. It’s worth reading for the Richard Burton cameo alone.


The book started off slowly for me, but that might be because I was afraid I picked a book too similar to what we’ve read before. Once I realized that, 1960s setting aside, this wasn’t really historical fiction (sigh of relief!), I was able to enjoy myself a bit more. From the beginning, though, the book read like a movie. If it was Jess Walter’s intention to write a book about Hollywood that felt like a movie, then well played, sir. The movie rights were recently optioned so we can expect Hollywood to strip the magic from the pages and produce a lackluster facsimile sometime with the next 2 years.

Aside: please skip to the bottom of that article and read the author’s “top choices” for principal roles.


How on earth is Daniel Day Lewis going to play a 19 year old Italian? I love how the author says that with prosthesis and makeup he can be made to look like the older Pasquale. Daniel Day Lewis is maybe 10 years younger than Pasquale at the end of the book. He’ll need prosthesis, makeup, a crate of duct tape, and an anti-gravity machine to look like the younger Pasquale. Don’t get me started on Ashley Olsen. It’s the most bizarre casting wish list I have ever read.

I finished the book over a week ago, and I’ve struggled thinking about what to write since then. It’s been on every critic’s top list, it’s being made into a movie, and everyone loves it. I liked it, but I’m not gushing. Next year, I won’t remember much about it. My least favorite part is what everyone else loved: the epilogue that wasn’t called an epilogue that went on for 25 pages. Again, this seemed like the final few minutes of a movie and for a book, it was a bow too neatly tied. It was something I would expect from a romance novel.

[one | two]

Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. says

    I’ve not read this – too many other things I want to read. I do think that the public taste is dumbing down a bit and whilst I don’t want to sound egotistical or arrogant I don’t assume that just because something is successful in the popular media I will love it as well. I tend to wait until the hype is over, the movie is history and I find titles at rummage sales for 50 pence. I think the last ‘big’ novel I found like this that I enjoyed was Water for Elephants. I liked the old-fashioned-ness of it, mostly about the male character’s manners. I might or might not see the film…depends on whether I run across the DVD in a thrift shop…

    Bill’s and my first holiday together was to Sorrento, Naples, the Isle of Capri. It is breath-taking scenery. I think I would resent any book that threatened to rob me of my happy memories.

    • says

      Hah. I wrote about Water for Elephants years ago…it was another one of those “big” books I didn’t love. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t see what all the fuss was about, either. The movie was even worse! My mother in-law loved it, though, as I knew she would. She also loved The Help–another book that left me scratching my head. I think I need to stop listening to the gushing.

      Quite possibly the worst gushed about book ever has to be Eat, Pray, Love. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows I despise that book. It’s my mother in-law’s favorite, naturally. Sadly, I’m much better at picking out books for my mother in-law than I am for myself! Makes Christmas easy, at least. :)

      • Phaedra says

        Ohhh.. I liked Water For Elephants the book (but the movie. meh) & I also liked Eat, Pray, Love- but I read that book right after my divorce as a single mom so perhaps it was just identifying that feeling of wanting a whole new life? My mom LOATHED Eat, Pray, Love and didn’t even finish it- whiney first world problems she said. I keep telling her she should join our book club and clearly this is proof! (in reference to you despising it, as well, I mean)

      • says

        I like the writing style of Eat, etc., but as much as I wanted to like the author I came away thinking of her as pretty self-obsessed. When all the paraphernalia hit the shops I felt even more so. Much as I like Julia Roberts, I didn’t bother with the film. I liked The Help, mainly because my mother grew up with ‘coloured help’ in the South. For all I can tell she and Gussie loved one another, but I’m sure it was a complicated relationship.

  2. says

    funny, i knew it was a favorite of so many, but i was not impressed. i liked the beginning more than anything else, (although it was slow) but i just found the story unbelievable and the characters unlikable for the most part. i was glad to finish it, but found it very average. and the epilogue? my least favorite part. (i read it several months ago… sorry, i’m fuzzy on the details!!)

  3. Kate says

    Oh, I loved this book! I felt it did such a great job highlighting the “beautiful” and “ruined” in each character and pointing out that each of is are beautiful ruins too.

    I agree I wasn’t crazy about the ending but it did seem written like an old Hollywood movie to me and it did fit well with that genre so I gave it a pass for that.

    • says

      The 50 year jump didn’t bother me too much, though unless my math is off, that puts Pasquale at 69. I don’t know if the author has been around very many 69 year olds lately. My parents are in their late 60s and not nearly the decrepit, wheezing bags of flesh knocking on death’s door that he portrayed.

  4. Susan G says

    Have to admit I hadn’t even gotten around to buying this one, so I think I’ll move on to whatever is next. Do we have a next one yet? I do love the cover of the book – makes me want to take a trip. :)

    • says

      I admit, it was the cover that lured me in! :) Yes, the next book is that mindful eating one. I did a post a few pages back. The book with the apple on the cover.

  5. Tara says

    Okay, I’m so glad you didn’t love this one. I read it awhile ago based on the many, many positive (gushing!) reviews, and I was so unimpressed. I didn’t dislike it, but I definitely didn’t love it, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. When I saw you were reading it for your book club, I thought, “Maybe it was good and I missed something?” Phew. Although I do agree with the Richard Burton cameo–I went down a rabbit hole on the internet after the cameo had ended. I was intrigued! Other than that, this book left me feeling “meh.”

  6. HeatherL says

    I read this about two months ago and enjoyed it at the time, but it didn’t leave much of a lasting impression. I couldn’t remember how it ended until I read your review. I didn’t mind the back and forth of the narrative which I usually find jarring, but I can’t stand the Forrest Gump-like coincidences.

    I did like the quirkiness of the characters though. I kind of wanted to hang out with Pasquale & the fishermen at the Hotel Adequate View.

    I’m not a fan of The Help either. I found it cheesy & actually a bit condescending. I watched the movie mostly for the costumes. My mother-in-law loved both The Help and Eat, Pray, Love. Maybe I should buy her Water for Elephants for Christmas.

    • says

      Loved Pasquale and the fishermen. I even liked Claire and the Donner! dude (see? Can’t remember his name.). I don’t understand why she would go back to the porn addict. Not that Donner! was a catch, either.

  7. Phaedra says

    It took me a while to read this and I read it several months ago, so I’m fuzzy on all the particulars and I felt that my final rating could be anything from 2-4 stars depending on the chapter. A very solid ‘average’. Light summer reading category.
    The imagery of the Cinque Terra in the early 60s was lovely. I could’ve immersed myself in that time & place with Pasquale & Hotel Adequate View (I mean, come on! That’s a fabulous name for most hotels! ADEQUATE. LOL LOL).
    I loved this quote, ‘Then she smiled, and in that instant, if such a thing were possible, Pasquale fell in love, and he would remain in love for the rest of his life–not so much with the woman, whom he didn’t know, but with the moment.”
    Yes, with the MOMENT, not the person! I never was fully invested in Dee & Pasquale as a love story, but the nostalgia of a moment? Yes. Totally believe that (and have fallen victim to it myself)
    The Richard Burton/Liz Taylor was a fun little side story & considering the opening of the book, added some old Hollywood glamour to the mix.

    That all being said, most of the modern day Hollywood storyline didn’t hit home (other than I feel exactly the same ways about the crap that is called reality TV as Claire does) & I didn’t feel invested in any of those characters at all.
    I don’t mind when stories jump around from POV and/or time frames, but I could’ve done completely without the Donner! chapter. I just didn’t feel it added all that much to the book, other than more broken dreams.
    Then ending of it tied up a bit too neatly, but with all those different stories, something had to be done with them so I wasn’t surprised.

  8. says

    Yup, yup, yup. Pretty much everything you said. I also had a hard time getting into it, and stuck with it, but I was never fully absorbed or attached to any particular character. (Maybe a little bit with Pasquale.) It was alright, but not all that rich and juicy.

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