Piranesi is the highly anticipated second book by Susanna Clarke, author of bestselling fantasy book Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell. This new book might not compare in size to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but it keeps its heart.
Centred on the story of a thirty-something-year-old man, readers find themselves reading journal entries of this man who sometimes goes by the name Piranesi. Piranesi lives in the House, and it feels like he has always inhabited the House.
The book opens with Piranesi nearly drowning as mysterious waters flood the house, pushing him into a strange room of statues where he can hold on to for dear life. This entry point to the novel gives the reader than this is no ordinary house and the events that will proceed it will be far from ordinary. Throughout the story, these flood continuously flow through the house, disrupting birds, life and various rooms, which after finishing the novel I believe they allude to the idea that tides are always changing, erasing and creating experience and stories.
Piranesi lives in this house alone, except he is not always alone. There is Other, an old man dressed in elegant suits who meets with Piranesi twice a week to learn about the cartography of the house. It is essential to point out that Piranesi spends his time exploring the house and documenting its various labyrinth-like rooms and holdings. Piranesi is much like a child, desperate to please Other but later through the novel, the reader learns that it is actually much worse. Soon Piranesi’s rhythmic routine is shattered when Other reveals that there is another person in the House — 16. However, by Other’s demand, Piranesi is banned from finding this new resident of the House and making any sort of contact with them. Of course, curiosity gets the better of Piranesi and starts to unravel secrets of the House and himself.
What is striking about Piranesi is how beautifully Clarke explores self-consciousness and the power of memories. Throughout the novel, Piranesi seems to have trouble with his personal memories. And as he unravels the mystery of himself through his old journals, he must fight with himself with what he does and doesn’t know.
Part of the books beauty is also its unexplainable weirdness. This book is weird and difficult to explain without giving too much of the plot away. But this unique strangeness is what makes the reader want to continue reading. What might seem like a straight forward fantasy story influenced by Pan’s Labyrinth (the tale not the movie), is actually much more than that. It has a mystery intertwined in the sentences that desperately wishes to be solved.
In the moments after finishing Piranesi, one feels a yearning to return to the House. To become our own Piranesi and explore a world unknown. This beautiful tales is one you do not want to miss, especially if you are an avid reader of fantasies and oddities.
Publication Date: September 15th 2020
RRP: $27.99 AUD
Personal Rating: 5/5