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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Beautiful Ruins

This novel by Jess Walter attracted me because it opens on the Ligurian Coast of Italy, a lovely part of the world. Twenty something actress Dee Moray arrives at the Hotel Adequate View in Porto Vergogna, a lacklustre fishing village at the butt end of the spectacularly scenic Cinque Terre area. Hotel owner Pasquale Tursi has big dreams of turning the small village into a tourist destination and is building a clifftop tennis court by hand, hauling stones up the hill one by one. When young Pasquale sees Dee it is love at first sight. She has been working on the film Cleopatra which was being shot in Rome, she is dying, she is in love with actor Richard Burton who is in the film with her, she is waiting for him to join her in Porto Vergogna. So far so good.
Then we skip 50 years ahead to Hollywood, Edinburgh, Washington and Idaho and are introduced to a dizzying array of mostly forgettable characters and narrative threads - too many for a 340 page book. Walter writes like a runaway bus and, like an out of control vehicle, this novel is bound to crash. All the stories connect in the end but I couldn't keep the names of the characters or the story lines straight and had to keep flipping back. When I first saw the cover I was ready to take a pass on this book but read some positive reviews by reputable sources (NPR, NYT and others) and decided to give it a go.  Beautiful Ruins is proof that you can tell a book by its cover and I should have followed my initial instincts. It was a fluffy book about shallow people and I heaved a sigh of relief when I finished it. Plenty of people liked it. I didn't.

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