Sometimes (like, really often) I dive into books because I see them repeatedly on lists of 'OMG read this now!' or 'the next book you won't be able to put down!' and often, they are generally quick and cute and I like spending time with them. I loved the cover of Beautiful Ruins, I found it on the clearance section at my local bookstore, it was stamped with 'Top 100 New Times Book Review,' and it was on many of those charming little Pinterest lists, so okay cool- I picked it up. If you are familiar with those lists, you have probably come across Beautiful Ruins time and time again, too.
The story line was really split in two major different ones; the first, set in a remote fishing town in Italy in the 60's, where an American actress is 'sent' to a failing but charming Inn, where a relationship forms with the owner of the hotel. The second being current day, in Hollywood, following a washed-up producer and his very unhappy assistant, on the search for the next success.
I went into this book knowing it would be a quick summer read that wasn't challenging or forcing me to flip back to previous pages to understand what I just read. Which is fine! There are many books that fall in that category that I really enjoyed, I just didn't dive into Beautiful Ruins as much as all the lists told me I would. The main thing that I struggled with was how many characters there were in the story! Many books that I have been reading lately have several characters with different plots, struggling to come together at the end in an ah-ha! moment, and often spanning across several years, so I think because it was one of many that I have read lately, I wasn't over enthused about it. There were seriously so major characters with their own POV chapters and dilemmas; the actress, the hotel owner, a guest of the hotel, the producer, the assistant, a guy trying to pitch a story to the producer, and more and more. It was an interesting concept and made it go by quickly, but it felt like a stretch to me in certain ways because of that, or perhaps I wished the book was longer to really give more into each character.
There were redeeming qualities about it that I enjoyed however; I LOVED the hotel owners character- so endearing and cute, I really enjoyed the scenery descriptions, the internal monologue of many of the characters, the way time moved and made me realize that small actions funnel into larger things later on, so on. Although I complained three sentences ago about how there were too many characters, it will still really interesting and done a bit different than I had ever read before. It made me pay attention more to the overlapping stories when a new chapter would start and I couldn't quit tell who was speaking. I did really enjoy the subplots of characters too, a big theme within this book was following what was right, not what you always want to do. It make think a lot about the the concept of our decisions that we didn't make still playing out in an alternate world and I think the characters dive into that a bit too.
I finally picked it up to read this month because it has been really dreary here in the Bay Area and it seemed like a wonderful summer read, and while I did technically enjoy it, I wasn't rushing home to finish it or writing about it on postcards, shoving it down peoples throats. It was short and sweet, wrapped up nicely at the end, presented real life dilemmas in some characters that I could relate too, and had a good twist that excited me to find out who-dun-it.
Don't let my weak review stop you from reading it though!!! If you are a light reader, want something you can read poolside in a day, like the film Cleopatra, or are really into fate stories, read this!
**** A version of this review was feature on bookbed.org- check it out here! http://bookbed.org/2015/07/04/bookbed-recommends-beautiful-ruins-by-jess-walter/