Staff Review – Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I’d heard little about this small novel, but as I was between books, waiting for my holds to come in, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to check out this 245 page novel. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, and I should have listened to that advice for this one. With the interesting name and the image of the minotaur, I thought I was beginning a book about Greek mythology. When it slowly became clear this was not the case, my confusion grew. “Piranesi” is a fascinating story about a man living in a House encompassed by halls, statues, and even an ocean. The only other person Piranesi speaks to or sees in the house is The Other, who meets with Piranesi twice a week to attempt to discover the Great and Secret Knowledge that The Other believes exists. Piranesi assumes The Other to be between 50 and 60, and believes that he himself is in his early 30s. As the story goes on and the mysteries begin to be revealed, I discovered this novel was much more that I thought it was going to be.

It took me a little while to connect and be excited by this novel, which is again mostly because of my misconceptions, which led to my confusion. Regardless, there is a lot of questions for the reader at the start of the novel. As Piranesi describes his world and surroundings, I didn’t quite know what type of story I was getting into. Was this story taking place in the real world, or some type of fantasy? Piranesi keeps a journal (which is what the reader is actually reading), and from that we can tell that the story is taking place in 2018, which didn’t make anything clearer for me. If this story was indeed happening in current time, why was he living in this House full of statues and endless halls? And who is The Other? Clues continue to unravel and hints are given throughout the novel that really grabbed my attention and made me want to know what was going on.

As mentioned, it took some time for me to feel connected and interested in this story. “Piranesi” is slow-moving, world-building and question-inducing. Once I could tell there was more than meets the eye in Piranesi’s home, I was very excited to learn what exactly was happening here. Clarke does a wonderful job of making the reader feel for Piranesi, as we are discovering what has happened to him at the same time he is, creating more empathy and concern for his wellbeing. He doesn’t think “Piranesi” is his real name, but doesn’t know any different as he has great trust and awe for The Other, who of course, is not what he seems.

“Piranesi” is a multiple award-winning novel that is not to be missed. There is so much to unpack and uncover when reading this novel, and the imagery and lyrical writing will truly transport you into the world of the House itself. Be sure to pick up Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi today!