Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

This is going to be a cult classic. Either you love it or you hate it.

“The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.”

-Susanna Clarke, “Piranesi”

Piranesi is a man living in the House. It is his entire world made of a never-ending labyrinth of grand halls filled with statues big and small. It is a wondrous universe where the sea floods the lower level halls and the clouds dominate the upper halls. The middle halls are the land of men and birds and statues. His friend is the Other: the only other living person in the world. Of course, there were others before his time, but they are only bones now.

He spends his days fishing and walking. Mending his clothes or fishing nets. Writing in his journal. Talking to the birds. Piranesi is grateful that the House provides for him and offers a means to feed himself and enjoy his life.

He tells his story through a series of journal entries recounting events that have happened over the course of about 6 months. He lives with the most basic supplies provided by the House or his friend, the Other. A simple life. A happy life.

But his life and happiness are threatened when the Other tells him of an enemy that wishes to do them harm. ’16’ is the 16th person in the world and is coming for them. This new peril causes strife between Piranesi and the Other and causes him to question more than he ever dared before. Innocence is lost. Madness seeps into the mind.

Who is Piranesi and why is he here? Can he trust anyone, including himself?

Clarke is incredibly imaginative when it comes to creating the House and its unique rules.

Imagery and metaphor guide the reader into a lull of literary wonder. The descriptions are vivid and reverent. Statues almost come alive. The House becomes a character.

Piranesi is a bit tough to start because the world is so strange. Even the way he dates his journal entries with a description instead of a year is awkward to get used to. Example: “ENTRY FOR THE FIRST DAY OF THE FIFTH MONTH IN THE YEAR THE ALBATROSS CAME TO THE SOUTH-WESTERN HALLS.” It is almost incomprehensible until you get used to the language and jargon Piranesi uses.

I’d almost call this a psychological thriller based on the fact that Piranesi spends a lot of time doubting his state of mind and questioning the motives of his enemy. The pacing for most of the book is leisurely until the climax brings quick answers and action. The mystery kept me glued to the book, eager to learn more along with the MC.

I recommend this book to a wide range of readers because it crosses many genres: fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, thriller, novel.

This has the potential to be a ‘love it or hate it’ type of book. It was tough to start, but if you stick it out you’ll be trapped by the clever plot. I think this could become a cult classic for fantasy lovers.

Clarke won the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction for Piranesi. I absolutely agree with this amazing award because this book was powerful. I’m eager to read more from Clarke and I’ll be on the lookout to get a copy of her first book Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

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