Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters

Published 2013   chapter 8  – this section taking place during the filming of Cleopatra in Rome in 1962





Slowly, the men climbed off the bus. Pasquale could think of nothing to do but follow them. They walked down an alley and through a gate marked CENTURIONS. And sure enough, inside the high fence, costumed Roman centurions were standing everywhere, smoking, eating panini, reading newspapers, talking to one another. There were hundreds of these men wearing armor and holding spears. There were no cameras or film crews anywhere, just men in centurion costumes wearing wristwatches and fedoras. He felt rather foolish doing it, but Pasquale followed the line of men not yet in costume. The line led to a small building, where the men were being measured and fitted. “Is there someone of authority around?” he asked the man in front of him. “No. That’s what’s so great.” The man opened his jacket and showed Pasquale that he had five of the numbered cards that had been given away at the hotel. “I just keep going through the line. The idiots pay me every time. I don’t ever even get a costume. It’s almost too easy.”



observations: Two things persuaded me to read this book: one was the cover:






-- which looks as though it belongs on the kind of popular sociology book that Penguin’s co-imprint, Pelican, used to produce in the 1960s, with a friendly but stylized image to look inviting and intriguing but not too academic.

The other was the review on my friend Col’s webpage – Col’s Criminal Library – where I first saw the cover.

Col said the book contained
Love, romance, celebrity, Hollywood, Cleopatra, Richard Burton, war, illness, family, death, control, substance abuse, screenwriting, hotelry, tourism, Italy, dreams, passion, responsibility, forgiveness and hope all figure throughout this charming tale.

--- so I immediately moved it up to the top of the pile.

I enjoyed it hugely, it is very clever and very very funny, full of good quotable bits. There’s a character who has tried to live his life through a Biblical aphorism but later finds:
“Act as if ye have faith … ,” never actually appears in the Bible. Rather, as far as she could tell, it came from the closing argument given by the Paul Newman character in the film The Verdict.

Another character is getting tired of her boyfriend:
there are two distinct phases to sex with Daryl: the first two minutes like an exam from an autistic gynecologist, the next ten a visit from the Roto-Rooter man.

The book jumps around all over the place, multiple strands and time schemes, and I found some parts a lot better than others. It had a rather random feel, as if it had been thrown together as the author raced through it with galloping momentum. So it was odd to read Walters’ discussion of the book afterwards, and disappointing to find that it took 15 years to write, that almost every element had changed in that time, and that he had rewritten it several times over. I felt that there was no excuse for it not being even better, and slightly as if I wished I had not read his comments.

But overall I would recommend this book whole-heartedly as a good read: a literary novel, well-written and funny and ideal for a long journey or to take on holiday. So thanks again to Col.

The two cinema posters are from Wikimedia Commons – no national stereotypes there then, with formal Cleopatra in the English-language one, and sexy Cleopatra for the French.

11 comments:

  1. Moira - Those costumes are too much! I love it. And I always enjoy a book with a nice dose of wit in it. I'm not usually keen on a plot that jumps around, but this one does seem like a fun read.

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    1. It's not perfect, if I were the editor I'd have changed a few things, but I really really enjoyed reading it all the same, and it did make me laugh out loud in places.

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  2. Good old Cleopatra. THANKS for sharing.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved October Edition. I am in the list as #28. My book entry is below.

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Entry

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    1. Thanks for visiting Elizabeth. Cleopatra might not have been the best film ever, but it was iconic....

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  3. Moira - I'm glad you liked it overall and cheers for the hat-tip to the blog.
    I read the post-book notes also and didn't really consider the time he had spent on it in relation to the finished article. A fair point, as it wasn't quite perfect for me either, though it's hard to quantify what my reservations were - maybe nostalgia towards the first book of his I read? Still, I'll be interested in what he does next.......though with my new vow of book buying celibacy if it's not out in the next 3 weeks, I'll just be rubbernecking!

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    1. I definitely want to read another book by him, so I'll let you know how I get on. Did you recommend Citizen Vince?

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    2. Citizen Vince was the one that rocked for me, I have a few of the others but haven't yet got to them.......unsurprisingly!

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  4. His first novel, Over Tumbled Graves, was one of my tops the year I read it. Also loved Citizen Vince and The Financial Lives of the Poets, which I think is a great goofy novel that perfectly captures the US experience of the recession.

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    1. Never even heard of Tumbled Graves, and now I find that everyone else knew about him ages ago and didn't tell me! I will definitely be reading more by him.

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  5. My comment when I read Col's review my response is that it is hard for me to break away from reading mysteries, partly because I have such a backlog. But I do like to tackle other fiction when I have good reviews to back them up, so I will put this on a list. Based on the comments, this is an author I should try, whether it is this book or others.

    It would be nice if I could get my husband interested in this one, since he is interested in Hollywood and the film industry.

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    1. Anyone who is interested in film-making or the history of Hollywood would, I think, really enjoy this book. You should get him onto it...

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