I write two columns for the Louise Riley blog. In one, I indulge my love of travelling, and in the other, I am the lazy reader, the one who likes happy books thinner than a phone book.
One of my heros is Richard Burton, the Middle Eastern and African explorer. He immersed himself in cultures, learning their languages, religions and customs. He travelled widely and translated books. We gave our son the middle name of Burton in his honour. Whenever I tell people the story of the middle name they always think of the OTHER Richard Burton, the actor.
As the Lazy Reader, I’ve just finished an excellent book called Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, which includes a fictionalization of Richard Burton, the actor. The Other Richard Burton is best known for having an affair with Elizabeth Taylor on the set of the movie Cleopatra, and later marrying her twice. He is one of the “beautiful ruins” of this novel.
Beautiful Ruins is set in Italy in early 1960s. The novel tells the story of Dee Moray, a young American actress who has a minor role as a servant in the movie Cleopatra. She has an affair with Richard Burton, who is having an affair with Elizabeth Taylor as well. A canny publicist is brought in to salvage the overspent movie, and he realizes the promotional value of the scandal. When Dee becomes pregnant by Richard, the publicist tricks Dee into leaving for a small town in the Cinque Terre in Italy so that Richard will go back to Elizabeth. The town of Porto Vergogna is another beautiful ruin, where Dee meets the local inn keeper Pasquale.
This book is full of interesting characters, and it’s structured to pull you along as you wonder what will happen to them all. I highly recommend it, both as the lazy reader, and to read on the deck chair of a ship crossing the Pacific Ocean on an imaginary Around the World in 80 Days voyage!