Any ruin contains a silent history that speaks to the viewer from many different levels. The artist sees the compilation of lines, colors and textures that the aging process produces. The historian has that special sense that can hear the voices of the people who lived and maybe died there. The traveler may see it as a destination or merely a point of interest along the way to where he really wants to go. As always, we interpret life through our own lens and usually see what we’re searching for at that point in time.
Jess Walter has taken this process to a new level by weaving stories, locations, and people both real and fictional to produce a novel where the Beautiful Ruins could be any of the above. It is a fascinating story of how the serendipity and the randomness of life events can coalesce into a unified whole, if you but know what to look for. I marvel at the planning alone it must have required to take events from the early 60’s and relate them so exquisitely into a setting in the current time to create a unified whole. His characters are each unique and so very, very human; even Richard Burton. I’ve always believed that most of us are mainly bumbling along through life most of the time. Walter proves this point in his book in such a way that, unless you’re looking carefully and closely, you don’t see the intricate infrastructure he’s built in such a seemingly effortless manner to present this sense that life in its consummate unpredictability eventually prevails. Some elements of the story are patently absurd, and yet they fit in perfectly with the story and the point the author is trying to make.
I listened to the Audible version narrated so expertly by Edoardo Ballerini. It was a delicious experience hearing his beautiful Italian interspersed with the American English of most of the characters. He portrayed flawlessly men, women, the arrogance and self-centeredness of Hollywood and the naive but practical inhabitants of a miniscule Italian village cut off from the rest of the world. I highly recommend it for a remarkable adventure through Italy, Hollywood, and along multiple paths through people’s lives who each, in their own special way, may constitute a beautiful ruin.