“Se non è vero, è ben trovato. . . .”
“Even if it is not true, it is well conceived."
Indeed it is.
This old Italian proverb is tucked away on the copyright page, without any translation. (“Beautiful Ruins is a work of fiction. Characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination, and any real names or locales used in the book are used fictitiously. Se non è vero, è ben trovato. . . .”)
I saw it only on finishing the book, and it was like a final and unexpected small reward from the author to the reader.
Beautiful Ruins is a cinematic book --I couldn't stop seeing it as a movie in my mind. Wonderful scenery (eg,small fishing village in Italy, early 1960s, vs studio lots of present day LA), old-fashioned movie star glamour and present day Hollywood drek from an insider view, heart-warming plot lines (love, lost love, redemption etc), great array of characters, and good supply of memorable quotes and snappy dialogue. Does Walter already have the screenplay halfway done?
The story switches between Italy and America, hopping amongst the decades from the 1960s until the present. The author matched his voice to the temporal setting. Scenes in present day Hollywood were funny, ironic, hectic. But he drops the tone for the old Italian stuff in the 60s. It is slower, more reflective
“I’ve been thinking about how people sit around for years waiting for their lives to begin, right? Like a movie. ...But I think some people wait forever, and only at the end of their lives do they realize that their life has happened while they were waiting for it to start.”
One of the characters is an aging movie producer — botoxed and surgerized into a plastic simile of a human face (George Hamilton is the image that comes to mind),—and his guiding philosophy, his key to understanding human nature and thus the secret of his success, is: “We want what we want.”
And what we want is not always what we say it is. The story knowingly basks at times in sentimentality, maybe because readers (many) want that, even if we say we don't. Satirical humour helps sharpen up the edges of the threatening sentimentality.
One great scene sounds like it could have been from a Humphrey Bogart movie:
“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.”
All loose ends at the end of the story are not only fully accounted for, they are thoroughly tied up, and the package is very much finished.“The smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be.”
Great read, well-paced, wonderful prose, smart and funny when it needs to be. Recommended ++.
How long before the movie version?