Piranesi by Susanna Clarke – review

Source – review copy

Piranesi will not be for everyone. There will be some readers who won’t be able to get past the first few pages or chapters. Then there will be others who get caught up in the tides of the story, are propelled through the pages as they journey with Piranesi to discover the secrets the House has been keeping.
Piranesi lives in the House. It is a house of hallways and a house of tides. There are statues scattered throughout and nests of birds high in its rafters. It is Piranesi’s sole domain. Except when The Other visits. But someone else has entered the hallowed walkways of the House, messages have been left in rocks and on doorways. It seems that the House is finally ready to tell Piranesi its secrets.
Piranesi is an astounding book, and I don’t use that word lightly. It is hard sometimes to remember that the world created is all the figment of the author’s imagination, so drawn in is the reader into Piranesi’s life and the hallowed halls of the House. The words wash over the reader much like the great waters flood the halls of Piranesi’s House. There is a subtleness to the story that the reader slowly becomes aware of. Even as I raced through the book, so keen was I to find out what would become of Piranesi and his home, I knew that this was a book that would benefit more than one reading. There are hidden clues, deeper meanings and more aspects to Piranesi’s world to be discovered on a further read of the book. There are references to other books for example that I know will have passed me by, though the more obvious ones did greet me as I turned the pages.
In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides that thunder up staircases, the clouds that move in slow procession through the upper halls. On Tuesdays and Fridays Piranesi sees his friend, the Other. At other times he brings tributes of food to the Dead. But mostly, he is alone.
I often think that as a reader I get an instinctive feeling for a book, almost before I even start to read, a knowledge that I am discovering literary treasure. I got that feeling when I started to read Piranesi. Quite simply I loved it. I hope that if you decide to read it you do too.
Messages begin to appear, scratched out in chalk on the pavements. There is someone new in the House. But who are they and what do they want? Are they a friend or do they bring destruction and madness as the Other claims?
As the story progresses, the reader begins to get a clearer picture of Piranesi and the origins of his life in the House. He seems happy in his job, tracking the tides of the house, discovering vestibules and hallways and reporting back to The Other in their weekly meetings. He has skeletons, found on his forays inside the house. He makes sure they have offerings and moves them when the waters threaten to wash them away. Piranesi writes in his notebooks, using a time of his own making, which can take some getting used to. I’ll also admit there were times when the story could have got away from me. If I’m honest, I let it wash over me and picked up the pieces that had made immediate sense. Some details were lost in order for me to see the bigger picture. This is one of the reasons why I think I would benefit from reading Piranesi a second time.
Susanna Clarke will already be familiar with many people, her novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell being hugely popular with many readers over the years. I haven’t read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell so I can’t compare the two. Neither would I want to. Piranesi is a world all of its own.
Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has.
Published by Bloomsbury
Publication date – 2 September 2021
Lost texts must be found; secrets must be uncovered. The world that Piranesi thought he knew is becoming strange and dangerous.

Posted by Contributor