Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. I shortened it a bit.
The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks on over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.
And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot-searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.
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.
This book delivered much more than I expected.
It begins in a very chick-lit, light beach read fashion -- from the cover to the love-at-first-sight beginning. And I like a good chick-lit book now and then. But the characters and the plot of Beautiful Ruins are deeper than that. And each time you think you know the characters or the story, something shifts and you're surprised again.
There's a lot in Beautiful: there are lost loves, wrong loves, because-you're-here loves. There's what was supposed to be, what actually was, and what might have been. And it's hopeful and it's sad and it's what you want your life to be and it's what you don't want.