Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes…
The characters in Beautiful Ruins have unrealistic dreams. A satirised Hollywood hovers over the novel. Hollywood the crucible of unrealistic dreams. Base metal to stardust. So we’ve got the theme worked out. Not difficult as it’s announced repeatedly by the characters. Problem number one. One of the exciting elements of reading a good novel is the archaeological challenge it sets the reader of sifting through the top soil of the text to find the buried clues of the unifying themes. No such fun here. Thematically it has the subtlety of a marketing campaign.
Structurally this novel is messy. We have excerpts from an appalling novel, a memoir, a play – all of which are shoehorned into the text like commercial breaks. There’s a sense that the author read Cloud Atlas while writing this novel and thought he’d try his own variation of Mitchell’s choral symphony of storytelling voices. Here it ends up like amateurish pastiche. Then we have Richard Burton. What he’s doing in this novel is anyone’s guess. As if two male characters with alcohol addiction problems weren’t enough.
Some of my misgivings were subjective. I found the humour puerile on the whole. Objected to the patronising stereotypical account of Italian fishermen and the author’s tourist perspective of Italy on the whole. Porto Vergogna is a preposterous name for an Italian village. Again highlighting how little understanding the author has of Italian culture.

The end. From satirising the ethos of Hollywood the novel ultimately endorses it. Stardust fountains from the sky and we have the sentimental Hollywood feel-good end as three feckless males suddenly become ideal husbands. In fact this novel could have been called The Ideal Husband.
Ultimately it’s the misleading reviews of this novel that I object to. Perhaps it’s okay as light entertainment but because it’s been hailed as a literary masterpiece one is compelled to put one’s foot down.


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