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Mental Fairy Floss

By Kellie Purcill

I’m in my mid-semester uni break, and seem to be deficient in Vitamin Fiction. So I’m self-medicating with the (at last count) thirty-seven fiction books I have scattered around my bedroom. At the moment I’m glutting myself on magical, fantastical fare and while it’s not my usual preference, it is hitting the spot right now. Nothing serious, nothing challenging, just great reads and escapes, adventure and fun. What’s not to love about that?

I truly believe that while our brains and selves can hugely benefit from a healthy, varied diet of intelligent, thought provoking reading materials, there is also a time for a bit of sugary, light deliciousness.

I enjoyed Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, for the people it introduced, the deft and beautiful turn of phrases, and the fact that I was sincerely hoping for a decent ending for two of the characters (which they got). It’s not all rainbows and glitter, but it is a charming and engaging read.

Beautiful Ruins starts in 1960’s Italy, during the filming of Cleopatra (has Elizabeth Taylor ever looked more beautiful than in that movie?), and jumps forward to recently, and back a bit, then repeats a few times. The USA and Britain also feature at times, but most of all the same characters flow onto the pages, around your fingertips and into your head so you don’t want to stop reading until you know every last technicoloured glorious detail.

This is definitely a love story, (one of my favourite quotes from the book – extracted below – is about love stories) but it’s not obviously a romance – it is definitely a book about friendship, and choices, and choosing good and better things.

This is a love story, Michael Deane says.

But, really, what isn’t?…

And the robot loves his mater, alien loves his saucer, Superman loves Lois, Lex, and Lana, Luke love Leia (till he finds out she’s his sister), and the exorcist loves the demon even as he leaps out the window with it, in full soulful embrace, as Leo loves Kate and they both love the sinking ship, and the shark – God, the shark loves to eat, which is what the Mafioso loves, too – eating and money and Paulie and omertá – the way the cowboy loves his horse, loves the corseted girl behind the piano bar, and sometimes loves the other cowboy, as the vampire loves light and neck, and the zombie – don’t even start with the zombie, sentimental fool; has anyone ever been more lovesick than a zombie, that pale, dull metaphor for love, all animal craving and lurching, outstretched arms, his very existence a sonnet about how much he wants those brains? This, too, is a love story.

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

Recommended to:

  • Anyone wanting an engaging – and not depressing – escape
  • Anyone wishing they were on the Italian coast
  • Those looking for some lovely imagery, depth and scenery in a story

Not recommended to:

  • Those currently or recently experiencing a romantic break up or loss of humour
  • Anyone confused or irritated by changes in chronology
  • Anyone who prefers their fiction to be strictly by Russian, dead and/or angst-driven authors
  • Those who prefer their books to weigh more than their chair.

Rated: PG 15+ (high level language [f-bombs present throughout], marriage breakdowns, family strife, Hollywood chaos)

What have you read lately that was fun, light and/or delicious?

About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

5 thoughts on “Mental Fairy Floss”

  1. Kelli, I loved Beautiful Ruins too! I heard Jess Walters in a lecture in Portland last month and he was as dazzling as his book–warm, gracious, hilarious. (I even got my photo with him–shameless, I know.) The only downfall of this book was, for me, the language. I am not a prude at all but I found the language to be more of a "hard R" rating–f- bombs galore, very crass sexual references, etc. Don't get me wrong, I loved the story, but found it hard to recommend to even my "heathen" friends. 🙂

    Was I overreacting? I'm asking sincerely, bc I'd love to tell more people to read it–it's perfect for summer. And thx for the review–the book was refreshing and original, such fun!

  2. Jennifer, thank you, and you're absolutely right about the language – it was a drafting error and typo on my part (the post is now amended).

    I have to plead ignorance on the R-rating scale: I've just realised (after your comment) that what is rated R in the USA is normally given an M or MA rating here in Australia.

    I'm glad to find another fan of Beautiful Ruins, and I'm glad at least one of us got to hear Jess in person (and a photo? I'm jealous!)

  3. Wait, Jess is a man? Somehow I missed that point! I just loved Beautiful Ruins. I don't normally feel in the mood for fiction but sometimes it just feels so good to be sucked into a book. I read an entire book called A Hundrend Summers on the airplane last month and it was delicious.

  4. Sounds interesting. I'm glad you're filling your brain with some fluff before it gets weighed down again. 🙂 Winter is good for that kind of thing.

  5. Oh, I loved Beautiful Ruins. I didn't mind the language or anything one bit, because I am depraved and probably Hell-bound. It was gorgeous. I especially loved the interview at the end where he talked about writing it for ten million years. It gave me hope.
    I Just finished The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair and, while it was in no way the beauty that Ruins was, it was a fun read, too. But also with the switching chronology.


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