Daily Archives: May 31, 2012

Book Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Title: Beautiful Ruins
Author: Jess Walter
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 9780061928123
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 337
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

“Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter is a story set in simple times and may be that is why I was so taken in by it. I had not read the earlier successful book by Jess Walter, “The Financial Lives of the Poets”. I have heard a lot about it and will read it now after having experienced his style of writing. Beautiful Ruins is set in most places – coast of Italy, Rome, Hollywood, Idaho, and in England and Scotland, and that’s why I loved this book so much. The fact that Walter can take the reader to so many places is stupendous and shows his skill as a writer.

The “beautiful ruins” of this novel is its physical setting; a tiny coastal village in Italy called Porto Vergogna (ironically translated as Port Shame). Here we are introduced to a young man named Pasquel, whose family owns the only hotel in town. He is determined to attract more tourists to this village and thereby improve the conditions of his hotel which he names The Hotel Adequate View. The book starts in 1962 when a young beautiful actress named Dee Moray arrives to stay at the hotel (earlier only one American had visited the hotel – Alvis Bender, a writer who only could not seem to write) and but obviously everything changes and the change occurs when Pasquel falls in love with Dee. The starlet one fine day leaves the island and Pasquel is left heartbroken but not without a mission. That is one part of the story.

The second part of the story is the “recent present” where Pasquel arrives in Hollywood to find out what happened to Dee. The quest to find her leads him to other people who were affected by the single act of her coming to the island in 1962. This is where we meet other characters: Michael Deane, the aging producer, Claire, Deane’s assistant whose idealism is slipping by slowly, and Shane, the talent-challenged writer, who help Pasquel in his search. The surprise element in the book is Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. (Almost like a starred appearance)

The book alternates between 1962 and the present beautifully in the form of letters, character sketches, lives lived, old letters, novel excerpts and movie pitches. There is a lot going on in the book and the reader has to get used to that (which can be very difficult) before falling in love with the writing. Beautiful Ruins as a title is most symbolic of what was once beautiful is in ruins and all things beautiful eventually turn to ruins. The slippage in time is symbolic of this fact.

“Beautiful Ruins” is a beautifully composed, philosophically written and highly entertaining novel. It can get a bit dragging at times but at the end of it all, it is so worth-it, once the reader knows the pace is picking up and going somewhere. There are private losses and gains in the book. Each character is beautifully etched and his or her own story to tell and how he or she is connected to the others. The characters of the past and present merge wonderfully to show readers Walter’s writing prowess. Like I said I only am inclined to read good books and I am glad I read this one. Highly recommended.

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Book Review: An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer

Title: An Uncommon Education
Author: Elizabeth Percer
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0-06-277096-1
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 342
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I love coming-of-age novels. They somehow manage to comfort me and make me believe in the goodness of the world. Yes they tend to do that. It has may be got to do with the fact that the protagonists are more human than the adults and have a perspective like no other. So it could be Holden Caulfield struggling with trying to make sense of the world or it could be Scout Finch who is trying very hard to hang on to the old life, as her world is falling apart.

And with this I begin the review of yet another beautifully told coming-of-age novel, “An Uncommon Education” by Elizabeth Percer. Naomi Feinstein is a young woman troubled by life. She is surrounded by a father with a weak heart (and so she decides to become a doctor), a mother who is depressed and is not interested in her and her best friend Teddy (and also her first love so to speak) suddenly departs from her life, making it more so miserable.

She tries dealing with the loneliness by running away from it. She is admitted to the college of her dreams – Wellesley College and hopes that life will change. But things do not. Naomi realizes that it will take some time for things to fall into place, but she is determined not to let others define her or her choices. She learns to save herself first through various means (the Shakespeare Club) and some of them actually work. Naomi’s happiness is soon compromised as she gets involved in a scandal and that is when she realizes the true meaning of life.

An Uncommon Education started off as a slow read for me, however once it grew on me I could let go of it. Percer is great at setting the style, the context and the elements of the story. We follow Naomi’s life from childhood through college and experience all her ups and downs with her and that is what sticks with you at the end of the novel. The fact that Elizabeth Percer can make you feel for Naomi through her words is a marvellous feat.

Elizabeth Percer writes with a striking clarity that may be at some point allows us to relate to the book at some level. You want to sit up and reach out to Naomi and let her know that things will be fine. At the same time, Naomi is the one who finds this out by living. By going through the proverbial rite-of-passage and by growing up to the realities that surround her life. This book is one of a kind. I highly recommend this novel. I would definitely re-read it later at some point.

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