Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Shelf worth: 3/5
This actually came out last summer, but I only heard about it in the last couple of months when suddenly everyone was banging on about it. When I asked Twitter for their "one amazing book" suggestions recently, this was overwhelmingly top of the list. So much so that I actually bothered to get a paperback copy rather than just troll along to the Kindle store as per, and I'm glad I did for a number of reasons:
- The cover is beautiful. Give the designer a prize
- I could underline all the lines I liked
- My housemate's moving out and I've suddenly got two gargantuan sets of shelves freed up
- Part of the book is set in the Cinque Terre, which I visited in 2003 and fell entirely in love with
- It took Jess Walter FIFTEEN YEARS to write this book, which merits hard copy
We kick off in 1962 where the young, relatively innocent Pasquale has left university in Florence to come and run the family hotel on Porto Vergogna, a blemish-like locale near Italy's ravishing Cinque Terre whose name means "shame". Pasquale's rather optimistic dreams of carving a beach and a tennis court out of the rocks are paused by the arrival of Dee Moray, an extra in Cleopatra who believes she is dying of stomach cancer and has been dispatched here by the film's publicist, Michael Deane.
Alongside this, we have modern day Hollywood, where Claire, a bright development assistant to Michael Deane, now a Hollywood legend now coasting along making dreadful reality television, is contemplating running a film museum for Scientologists. When Pasquale arrives to try and find Dee Moray, a caper of glorious proportions ensues, with a supporting cast including a deluded writer, assorted drunks, Richard Burton's illegitimate son, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which is practically a character in itself.
Walter writes beautifully - there is a rather enormous preview on Amazon - but the story didn't click for me at all. I enjoyed reading it much as you appreciate any sort of skill, but every time I put it down, I could quite happily have left it there. It felt a bit like watching a really accomplished tap dancer - completely proficient, lots to admire, but stylishly brittle. And while I am a big fan of people who can do wonderful things with words, I need the characters to grab at my shoulders and go "OH FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, LOVE ME" even if they're dreadful, and I really didn't feel that at all.
This week I re-read....
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Shelf worth: 5/5
I've extolled the virtues of this utterly wonderful book here before, but re-read this with purpose as my incredibly sporadic book club is discussing it this week. Green is a master of combining the perfect phrase with snark, emotion and character, and never more so than in this book, which is being filmed as we speak.
Hazel is a 16-year-old girl with terminal cancer, whose course of 'miracle' drugs means her life has stretched out more than expected. Having passed her high school equivalent, she now spends her time attending college courses, and watching ANTM marathons with her mum. Good choice.
Her well-meaning parents encourage her to attend a youth cancer support group - Hazel/Green does a magnificent job of tearing this down - where she meets Gus, who is in remission from bone cancer and so begins one of the most lovely, credible teenage friendship-romances in modern fiction.
Some of the best books I've read in the last years have been YA (My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, Wonder for starters) for the simple reasons of imaginative subjects handled incredibly sensitively but, as I said last time round, without feeling like they're being "handled" at all. If you read one book this week, read this. You will feel All The Feelings, but primarily the joy that comes from reading a truly incredible book.
Read it? Give me a yell with your thoughts and then tell me what books you can't put down at the moment. Happy reading!