I’ve said it plenty of times before but I do worry about super hyped books. I know that everyone was raving about Piranesi when it came out but I still wasn’t ready to give it a chance. After all, I’ve read so many supposedly flawless books that just disappointed me. It didn’t even matter that Susanna Clarke had been nominated for so many literary awards. We all know that’s not always a mark of quality. The Testaments is proof of that. However, I was looking for an audiobook to keep me occupied during work and this one grabbed my eye. Why not try it now?
Piranesi is the first Susanna Clarke book that I’ve ever read. I’ve had a copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell on my shelf for years but I couldn’t bring myself to pick it up yet. It’s so goddam thick. Piranesi, on the other hand, is quite a manageable size. The novel very limited point of view and introduces us to Piranesi. Not only is he the narrator of our tale but he’s one of only 2 people living in the House. His housemate is a figure known only as the Other. They meet twice a week and share information.
It was the Other who gave our narrator the name Piranesi. Though he knows that it isn’t his real name, he cannot remember what it really is. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Piranesi is something of an unreliable narrator and his memories aren’t really trustworthy. He does have an investigative and scientific mind. Piranesi wants to explore the House and find out what he can. He knows that there have been 13 people here before because their skeletons remain as proof. However, he knows nothing about them.
Piranesi leads an isolated and lonely life. He is content with it and meticulously writes down his observations in his journals. It is by no means a good life but he seems happy with the setup. Not least because of his religious zeal for the House. He sees himself as a child of the House. The House provides for him but it can also turn its wrath on him. The Other doesn’t feel the House in the same way as Piranesi. He refuses to wander too far and fails to understand Piranesi’s loyalties. They have a difficult and tense relationship. Something that is further threatened by the arrival of a new figure. How will this change their dynamic?
It’s difficult to sum this novel up without giving much away. It’s full of twists and turns just like the House where Piranesi is confined. I won’t say that it’s impossible to figure out what’s going on but there is plenty of mystery here. It’s a very engaging plot and I was content to let myself get swept away with the story. The writing is beautifully simple and to the point. It lacks flourish but not in a bad way. The language isn’t bland but merely stripped back. I’d say that it adds to the atmosphere in the book. In a world that is so dreamlike and fantastical, this style of writing is a fantastic counterpoint.
I did really enjoy listening to this book. It captivates you from the beginning and takes you on quite a journey. Just like Piranesi, you are trapped in this story. You are as secluded and in the dark as he is. It is difficult to know who to believe and what to think about everything. That’s what makes it such a compulsive read. It is a mystery that you need to solve. You become as hungry for answers as our narrator. Piranesi doesn’t feel like any other book I’ve ever read. It’s disorientating and not one to forget easily. It’s been a nightmare trying to write a review because I still don’t know how to feel about it. Although, the fact that I haven’t stopped thinking about it must be a good sign. This is an intelligent novel that demands multiple readings. I can’t wait to get back to the House for another go.