In 2020, award-winning author Susanna Clarke published this slender but monumental novel about a man living in a vast labyrinth filled with many statues and a few dead bodies, and pervaded with mystery.
Author: Susanna Clarke
First published: September 5, 2020.
A man with some serious memory lapses explores the statue-filled labyrinth/house in which he lives, occasionally interacting with (initially) one other person who regularly turns up. The house, clearly inspired by the illustrations of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, is so vast that the attic level supports weather systems and the lower levels contain oceans and tides.
The arrival of others causes the mystery of Piranesi’s life to unravel.
I applaud the very fact that a book this bizarre and enigmatic not only works so well but actually has a solution that makes sense in context.
Its fantasy, while it invites metaphoric interpretation, has been rooted in a worthwhile premise, if one not easy for the contemporary mind to embrace.
I enjoyed the opening, but I know a number of readers will find it slow and very strange, for some to the point of alienation.
Originality: 5/6 The visual style of the house draw from the illustrations of the enigmatic Giovanni Battista Piranesi, but Piranesi delivers an original story.
When the Moon rose in the Third Northern Hall I went to the Ninth Vestibule to witness the joining of the Tides. This is something that happens only once every eight years.
The Ninth Vestibule is remarkable for the three great Staircases it contains. It Walls are lined with marble Statues, hundreds upon hundreds of them, Tier upon Tier, rising into the distant heights.
I climb up the Western Wall until I reached the Statue of a Woman carrying a Beehive, fifteen metres above the Pavement. The Woman is two or three times my own height and the Beehive is covered with marvel Bees the size of my thumb. One Bee– this always gives me a slight sensation of queasiness– crawls over he left Eye. I squeezed Myself into the Woman’s Niche and waited until I heard the Tides roaring in the Lower Halls and felt the Walls vibrating with the force of what was about to happen (3)
Story: 5/6 I can reveal no more about the story than I have without spoiling the experience of the novel.
Characterization: 5/6 The main character feels completely believable, despite his highly unusual physical and psychological circumstances. The others seem credible, though they are not fully explored.
Emotional Response: 6/6 The slow, deliberate start will not appeal to all readers, but I found the book instantly fascinating, and the gradual revelation of the truth behind Piranesi’s situation exerts a powerful effect.
Editing: 6/6 Susanna Clarke is a brilliant writer, and those who found Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell a little lengthy and rambling have fewer than 300 pages to process here.
Overall score: 6/6 I did not have quite so strong a reaction to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves as many people. I consider portions of it brilliant and found that book worth the time it took to read it but I had some sympathy for those readers who wondered if they were being played for suckers. I’m on the other side with Piranesi. I found this book mind-bending, but I am aware that some readers merely found it baffling and wondered if they’d been victims of an artistic huckster. You have not.
However, your Appreciation and Mind-Bendery May Vary.
In total, Piranesi receives 39/42