Title: Beautiful Ruins
Author: Jess Walter
Page Count: 337 pages
Tone: Romantic, Dazzling
From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion—along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow.
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
Questions written by MPPL Staff
1. What do you think the quotes at the beginning of the book mean? Do they set a tone for the book?
2. What does the title of this book refer to? Does it capture the essence of the book?
3. Beautiful Ruins had several story lines and timelines . How did that affect your reading?
4. What did you think of Porto Vergogna? A place you would go to visit?
5. Did you have a favorite character?
6. At the beginning of the story, Pasquale Tursi is waiting “for life to come and find him.” What do you think he was waiting for?
7. When Pasquale found out his father died there was no question that Pasquale would come home and take care of his mother. Why?
8. How do you think Carlo influenced Pasquale’s life?
9. In reference to the Tennis court that Pasquale wants to build, Pasquale waxed philosophically “Every point ended with someone missing. It seemed both cruel and in some way true to life”. What do you think about that? What did you think about his tennis court?
10. Did Shane Wheelers parents stunt his growth?
11. Claire Silver, the chief development assistant for legendary film producer Michael Deane, was enchanted by the magic of Hollywood when she saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s two days before her tenth birthday. How do you think this movie shaped who she became? Was it for better or for worse? Is it the idea of fame that draws people to Hollywood, or something else? Is Hollywood as influential on lives today as it was through much of the twentieth century?
12. Claire Silver is portrayed as a go-getter, what did you think of her character?
13. What do you think about this line: “Guilt is sometimes a kind of envy” (pg. 59)?
14. How do you think that the concept of the”American dream” applies in this novel? Do you think it is still attainable? How much of our notions of the American Dream are shaped by Hollywood? Is faith enough—or hard work—to make our dreams come true? Can we truly be, achieve, or do anything we desire?
15. This novel has many artistic inlets using storytelling itself as the story. Did any of them resonate with you?
16. When Pasquale came to Michael Deane’s office all those years later to find Dee, did you believe that Micheal had an altruistic motive to help him?
17. What did you think about Michael Deane? Is there any good in him?
18. Discuss the reunion of Dee and Pasquale. Dee asks Pasquale, “what took you so long?” To which Pasquale answers, “I’m sorry. There was something important I had to do.” Is true love timeless?
19. Pasquale left Dee to go to Amadea and led a good life. What would you have done? What do you think his life would have been like if he stayed?
20. When Amedea told Pasquale that she was pregnant, was she hoping he would marry her? (Pg. 120)
21. Do you think Pasquale would have went back to Amadea if he had not met Dee?
22. Pat Bender was the son of Dee Moray and Richard Burton. What did you think about him? Did he remind you of his father?
23. Why use the movie Cleopatra as the center of the novel?
24. Why do you think Dee kept track of Richard Burton’s career ?
25. What do you think about Dee not telling Pat who is real father was until the end?` pg 211
26. Pat was 45 and running off to Europe in the hopes of finding success. What did you think of this?
27. How are Pat and Shane Wheeler different?
28. Pat talks about living the life he should be living versus the one he actually is living. How is the way your life is dictated come from and where does “the should” come in?
29. How are our identities shaped by the culture we live in? Who shapes our culture in the first place? How did they get the power?
30. What did you think of the Richard Burton Character?
31. Richard Burton said “of course any right blighter would choose being a great actor over being a household word if the stacks were the same.” What do you think the relationship is between fame and art?
32. What did you think of the ending? The author said he wanted to give each of his stories one more moment in the present.
Discussion Questions by TOSA Book Club
Lit Lovers’ Reading Guide
Book Riot Discussion on Beautiful Ruins
Video Q&A with Jess Walter
In-Depth Interview with Jess Walter
Cleopatra movie trailer
Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper by Hilary Liftin
The Rocks by Peter Nichols
The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson