Book Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Rating: 9 out of 5.

Sixteen years after Susanna Clarke’s stunning and genius historical-fiction-meets-magic debut, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Clarke’s second novel, Piranesi, has finally arrived – and what a treat it is!

Piranesi follows the story of a man who lives in a mysterious House, a labyrinth of halls filled with endless statues. The lower halls are submerged in the ocean, birds nest and fly around and Piranesi, who does not believe Piranesi to be his real name but cannot say why, is seemingly alone but for his sole companion, the Other.

Piranesi meets with the Other every Tuesday and Friday for a single hour to help him uncover ‘the Great and Secret Knowledge’, and fills the rest of his time exploring the labyrinth and making detailed notes on his findings. When it seems that another has entered the House, Piranesi is forced to investigate his background and is torn between what he has been told and what he believes. Where does the Other go when he is not meeting with Piranesi? Why is the Other convinced of the evil of strangers? And why does the House grant so many gifts to the Other and not to Piranesi?

To this end I have traveled as far as the Nine-Hundred-and-Sixtieth Hall to the West, the Eight-Hundred-and-Ninetieth Hall to the North and the Seven-Hundred-and-Sixty-Eighth Hall to the South.

Susanna Clarke

Firstly, I must say that this book was nothing like Jonathan Strange, however, I still absolutely loved and I read it in one sitting! Clarke’s writing is beautifully elegant and the unusual world she has built here is nothing short of exceptional.  

The story has a pensive feeling into which the story gently weaves and gathers pace with an underlying sense of foreboding. It is hard not to like Piranesi’s unusual character – his love of the House, his complete acceptance of his solitary life and his wonder and gratitude at the tiniest of new things.

A sneak peak of the beautiful design that is hidden under the dust jacket.

It is hard to characterise this book as any particular genre, it simply doesn’t follow conventions and stands out as unique amongst my own reading. It has tones of magical realism and mythology, but has a leaning towards fantasy. The writing is more literary but not challenging or hard to digest once you get over the seemingly bizarre and long-winded chapter titles. The air of mystery is its most defining feature.

After reading this book I had a quick google to see what the origin of the name Piranesi is. I had assumed it to be a Greek name so was surprised to see that it was in fact the name of an Italian artist, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, who was famous for his sketches of Rome and imaginary prisons. Looking at his artwork (below) I can definitely see where Clarke got the influence for the House!

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