Review: “Piranesi” by Susanna Clarke

Release Date: September 15, 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre: Fantasy

Description

“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.”

Review

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a classic of contemporary fantasy. What I wouldn’t give to be able to go back and read it for the first time again. As big as it is, I consumed it in about three days. I had never read anything like it, and still haven’t, all these years later.

In the beginning, the style feels like something out of the 18th century. In his journal, Piranesi capitalizes important nouns and describes things as if he were writing a travelogue. But the more he learns about The Other, the House, and himself, the more his writing style shifts. I can’t describe how or why without spoiling the story, but it’s subtle and remarkably well done.

It takes a little while for the plot to reveal itself, but the ending is unexpected and painful. Like with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, the magic of Piranesi comes at a high cost. Just because someone escapes with their life doesn’t mean that life will be a good or happy one. Even innocents must suffer the consequences of their actions, or the actions done to them by others. No one comes out the other side unscathed, not the heroes or the villains. 

Piranesi makes for an impressive sophomore novel. Although it is far shorter than its predecessor, it carries almost as much emotional weight and depth. And it has that ineffable Susanna Clarke-ness to it that is almost indescribable. Calling Piranesi beautiful, moving, harrowing, or compelling doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. You just have to experience it for yourself. 

Buy it at Bookshop.org (affiliate link)

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