I described Piranesi to a friend the other day and realized how lame it sounds. It is simply one of those books that it is difficult to properly articulate what it is about, especially without ruining it for someone else.
I have had this book on my shelf since it was Book of the Month add-on in 2020. I had heard some pre-publication praise for it and bought it without really knowing what it was about. In the end, that was a good decision.
Piranesi lives in a house with endless rooms and a ridiculous number of statues, all unique. On the top floors, there is the sky. On the bottom floors, there is the sea. Piranesi is a man of scientific inquiry and helps the Other with his research projects about the house.
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.
Piranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.
Piranesi is simply unlike any book I have ever read and likely will ever read. I mean that in an awe-inspiring way. It is full of so many surprises as well as delight.
I found Piranesi a bit slow to start, but then you are weirdly entranced by about page 25. I think the book is just so strange that you need to know why and how and what is going on. Why is Piranesi in this labyrinth house with endless rooms and a bazillion statues? What is this house? Is it a metaphor? At some point, I was completely pulled in and needed to know what the hell was happening or did happen.
The first page or so it was a bit to slog through, but once I came to understand that I did not need to absorb and remember every little detail, it was much easier to breeze through and enjoy. Please take note! Once you know this, you can truly appreciate Susanna Clarke’s beautiful prose.
It is hard to describe why I liked Piranesi so much. There is a constant unfolding of possibilities. It is quirky and at first you will not understand a thing. In the end Piranesi is simply surprising and magical, yet wholesome. Overall, I definitely recommend Piranesi regardless if it sounds like something you would like or normally read.
September 15, 2020
2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction Winner
World Fantasy Awards Finalist