Read IN BED: Beautiful Ruins

Words & Images by Hannah-Rose Yee

‘“A writer needs four things to achieve greatness, Pasquale: desire, disappointment, and the sea.” “That’s only three.” Alvis finished his wine. “You have to do disappointment twice.”’ Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins

Bed is the vehicle of escapism. It’s there that we dream, after all. But it’s also there that we escape in elation, ecstasy… It’s there that we read. And there’s no better book for escapism than Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. This was the best book I read in 2013, bar none. It’s also the book I pressed into the hands of every single one of my friends (and there were many) who jetted out of Sydney’s winter chill and into a European summer. This book is about many things – love, loss, resilience, regeneration, Hollywood – but it is also very much about Italy, and the Riviera. The Cinqueterre is as much a character in the book as Pasquale (the blue-eyed innkeeper), Dee (the fragile film star) and Alvis (the disappointed failed writer). Porto Vergogna – literally meaning Port of Shame – the forgotten town where Pasquale lives and where Dee escapes to, is a sleepy fisherman’s town, where the locals dress in washed-out colours and the air smells like salt.

The story is simple. If you fell in love, and that person leaves your life, what would you do? Would you spend the rest of your life trying to find them? The story criss-crosses between 1950s Italy to present day Hollywood, London in the clutches of 90s brit-pop mania and World War II. Sound like a mouthful? How about multiple perspectives, multiple treatments, multiple voices? The skill is all in the way the story unravels, string by delicate string, leaving you hanging until the denouement. And when Richard Burton – cantankerous and thoroughly charming – makes a cameo midway through the book, you just want to stand up and cheer. Yes, that Richard Burton. Because if the Cinqueterre is a character in this book then so, too is Hollywood. For some people, movies are a religion (“Oh what is this light that holds us fast?” as Frank O’hara wrote). Beautiful Ruins is for them.