Review | Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

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.

I read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in high school, and I absolutely loved it. Piranesi is significantly shorter at only ~250 pages, and doesn’t contain any of the entertaining, faux-academic footnotes that made Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell so memorable.

The synopsis of Piranesi reminded a lot of one of my favourite books, The Starless Sea. Piranesi drops you right into a labyrinth, known as The House, inhabited only by two people and with a sea coursing through it. No previous context was provided as to what The House was, and while I was intrigued by it, the chapter titles made no sense at first and, honestly, made it difficult for me to read. As a result, It took me several tries to get into this — but once I pushed past the first 20 pages or so, I was hooked.

Piranesi is a beautifully written tale of adaptation and resilience in the face of isolation, something that rang particularly true given the current state of the world. I definitely recommend going into Piranesi with as little knowledge of the plot as possible — half of the fun of this incredibly imaginative read is in piecing the details together.

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