Review: “Piranesi” by Susanna Clarke

When the Moon rose in the Third Northern Hall I want to the Ninth Vestibule to witness the joining of the three Tides. This is something that happens only once every eight years.

Piranesi, Chapter 1 opening

Author: Susanna Clarke
Publication Date: September 15th 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: Fantasy
Format: Hardcover
Find it on: Goodreads

Synopsis

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s CircePiranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, an intoxicating, hypnotic new novel set in a dreamlike alternative reality.

From Goodreads

Review

What an incredibly remarkable book! Here Susanna Clarke presents one of the most unique, surreal stories I’ve read in a very long time. Enchanting in both concept and artful storytelling, I fell in love with the character of Piranesi and his World.

Where to begin…I just finished breezing through this book and am still whirling from the story. Well, of course our main character is Piranesi – an individual who resides in a place where man-made creations and nature alike collide in a single endless ‘building.’ As one of very few people to have encountered this World, Piranesi is compelled to document it. His character exudes a spirit of bold, rigorous exploration as he sets out day after day on a seemingly unending venture to catalogue the intricacies of his World. Yet he is not solely academically inclined. Piranesi also experiences an ethereal one-ness with the house, forming a deep, spiritual connection to its labyrinthian halls, emotive statues, and comforting tides. The dichotomy provides a beautiful human contrast to his intellectual pursuit and as a rounded character made him easy to connect with as a reader. Piranesi spends the book befriending the birds, caring for the discovered remains of mysterious wanderers past, and of course holding regular meetings with the Other – his only other companion in this World.

What unfolds is a fanciful tale circling a shared quest for a Great and Secret Knowledge. We read from Piranesi’s first person perspective in journalistic style as he dutifully records events of note and indexes them for reference later to discuss with the Other. Memories seep into the pages, carving paths through the words with meaning that’s not altogether clear in the moment. Readers discover the World and its deep Secrets alongside Piranesi, but they’re not for the feint of heart. Piranesi’s reality and sanity itself are at stake in this dangerous undertaking.

It’s still very early in 2021 but I don’t think it’s premature to say this book will easily make at least top 20 or so of the year. Susanna Clarke is also author of award-winning Jonathan Strange & Mr. Morell which I’ve looked at and now regret having not picked up yet after reading this book. If that one’s anything like Piranesi I’ve clearly been missing out… if anyone has read both (or either) please let me know what you think!

Background cover photo by Judith Ekedi Jangwa on Unsplash

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