Lovers of fantasy and wonderful imagery alike will be delighted to pick up “Piranesi” by Susanna Clarke. This unique story will be a quick read for those who love mysteries set in a faraway place.
Susanna Clarke returns with her second novel after a 16-year hiatus. Those who enjoyed Clarke’s debut novel “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell,” published in 2004, have had a long time to wait for her second novel. “Piranesi” was published in 2020 and is a standalone novel that I enjoyed as a book to read while in-between other books.
The title character, Piranesi, lives in a world that is nothing more than endless hallways of great stone statues that sprawl out infinitely in every direction. He spends his days walking the halls and journaling each passage, vestibule, and statue he comes across for his personal record.
Clarke wonderfully sculpts this odd place with fantastic imagery detail. Piranesi loves this place like home and is grateful for the food and other items it provides to its resourceful guest.
The third paragraph in the entire novel gives us a glimpse at the masterful imagery that Clarke delivers throughout the story. “I climbed 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 marble Bees the size of my thumb. One Bee – this always gives me a slight sensation of queasiness – crawls over her 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.”
There is another that occupies the great halls. ‘The Other’ is Piranesi’s only friend, and they meet regularly to compare notes on all they learn from this strange world.
As time goes on, the reader will not be able to help but notice that Piranesi seems to be the only one providing any valuable information while ‘The Other’ seems to be more interested in gathering information that will help him unlock the great power that lives hidden within the endless halls.
As this captivating story progresses, Piranesi begins to realize that his memory is not so sharp and that perhaps there are details about his existence that have long gone unexamined. The story is told through the eyes of Piranesi himself, and readers are encouraged to join him while he discovers exactly who and where he is.
Clarke does a fantastic job of creating a truly original setting and guides her readers as they slowly piece together exactly where it is that they are. If you love masterful writing that paints clear pictures in your mind, Clarke’s style will satisfy your imagination. Much of the book’s word count is spent transporting its audience to a distant realm filled with beautiful detail.
This is a first-person narrative where readers follow Piranesi through the writings of his personal journal. It is difficult not to get lost and feel that you, the reader, are Piranesi himself.
However, any mystery story (and this is certainly the mystery of Piranesi’s identiy and the history of the place he lives) must eventually have a payoff, and payoffs often fall short of the lofty expectations of the reader. Piranesi is unfortunately no exception to this rule. I found that while the book was enthralling and had me turning pages at my maximum capacity, its finale prevents it from earning an A+.
That being said, this book drives home the old saying that “it is the journey, not the destination.” Clarke manages to create a fantastic world that readers will love getting lost in, even if they find themselves lacking satisfaction with the final stages of the story.
If you are looking for a quick fiction read with language and patterns that are easy on the eye, Piranesi will leave you satisfied. If you are looking for a profound and flawless masterpiece within this genre, try picking up something by Ruth Ware.
Piranesi earns three stars out of five from me, but I hope that it isn’t another sixteen years before Clarke takes another crack at a fun novel like this one.