Piranesi, Susanna Clarke, Bloomsbury, 2020, 264 pp
Summary from Goodreads: 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.
Way back in 2005 I read Susanna Clarke's amazing first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I loved her interweaving of magic and reality as it related to history. It made my top favorite books that year.
Now after a 16 year wait, Ms Clarke has graced us with another example of her wondrous writing. Compared to that first novel of 782 pp, this one is a novella but no less eerie, no less gripping.
The summary from Goodreads is a good one and I use it here because to tell you anymore about the plot would spoil everything.
Highlights for me were:
1. Piranesi himself as the main character. He is named after Giovanni Battista Piranesi, an 18th century Italian archaeologist, architect and artist who wrote about fictitious and atmospheric prisons. In this book, Piranesi is experiencing such things.
It becomes clear that he is an unreliable narrator. I love unreliable narrators because their stories always contain code for another story.
2. In the otherworldly house where Piranesi lives, he is being made insane by the other person there through a unique form of gaslighting. This reminded me of two of my favorite 20th century British novelists: Muriel Spark and Iris Murdoch who often feature controlling and ill-intentioned characters.
3. The world building is intricate and compelling.
I was curious about Susanna Clarke's long absence from publishing. I looked her up and learned she had been ill for many years with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I feel sorry she had to experience such suffering but she certainly put the insights she gained to good use.
I recommend this book to anyone and everyone!