The BookBrowse Review

Published September 16, 2020

ISSN: 1930-0018

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The BookBrowse Review

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Editor's Introduction
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Book Jacket

Piranesi
by Susanna Clarke
15 Sep 2020
272 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
ISBN-13: 9781635575637
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Speculative, Alt. History
Critics:
Readers:
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BookBrowse members resident in the USA can request free review copies of books through our First Impressions program. Below are their opinions on one such book...

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Diane T. (Slingerlands, NY)

Out of my comfort zone
I am old enough to remember "The Twilight Zone". As soon as I saw Rod Seeking, I'd change the channel. He made me feel anxious! Although I loved "The Big Bang Theory", I could never figure out the fascination the guys had about " to go where no man has gone." It was way beyond their chosen field of expertise. Suffice it to say, I'm not a Trekie, nor a fan of Star Wars. No sci-fi for me.
That being said I have just finished reading "Piranesi" by Susanna Clarke for the third time and will buy the book - I received the ebook to review - to have in my library! Yes, that is how much I loved it. Why? Because it is magical and otherworldly. It makes you think about life and it's cycle. The author has written what could have been a rather frightful book into one that is beautifully lyrical, poignant and believable. It reminds us what has come before us in history and gives us an opportunity to experience the good, the bad and the ugly in a way that calls upon our senses. Art reminds us of what was and so it is in this book.
Our main character is Piranesi, though this is not his real name. In history, Piranesi is an Italian artist famous for his etchings of Time and of fictitious and atmospheric "prisons". The House , where the story mainly takes place, is atmospheric, haunting, yet calming to the soul. There are twists and turns, literally and figuratively that unfolds this mystery.
To say that I was initially thrilled to be told that the books that I had requested to reviewed were oversubscribed and that I could request"Piranesi". I am so glad that I stepped out of my box and read this book. In these most anxious times, my blood pressure was lowered not only once but three times before writing this. Will I read the book again? Everytime I feel fraught with everything, I will escape to The House and it's serenity.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Mark S. (Blauvelt, NY)

Strangely Exciting and Thought Provoking
It took a little while to get going, but I was immediately captivated by the author's prose and the images it created. The ending felt mildly anticlimactic, but the way in which Clarke develops the mystery of who and where Piranesi is made it impossible to put down. I would strongly recommend Piranesi to any fantasy buffs and book clubs who enjoy exploring alternative reality stories.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Robbie Lee Naples, FL

Piranesi
It's a wonderful house — huge soaring rooms connected by hallways and staircases extending to infinity. And filled with beautiful statues. The House is usually benevolent providing food, water, conversation, and comfort. The only perceptible evil — killer tides that, fortunately, can be predicted and avoided.This magnificent house comprises the entire world with a total of 15 inhabitants, 13 of them skeletons. Piranesi with his journals and The Other are the two protagonists of this magical, alter world.

Susanna Clarke allows the reader to discover Piranesi's slow understanding of himself through twists and turns in this fantastical novel. Her storytelling ability wholly immerses us in mystery and adventure making us question which world is real — a journey worth traveling.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Catherine O. (Altavista, VA)

Escape
When reading is your favorite hobby and you read over a hundred books a year it is difficult to find such a unique novel as Piranesi. As you lose yourself in this elaborate, beautifully described world that Piranesi inhabits you question everything. The author reveals characters and information in a gentle way that eases you toward a satisfying ending. This is a novel I will be recommending to my book club, it gave me several hours of true enjoyment and provided escape from my worries as I wondered if Piranesi would ever escape from his world.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Lorraine D. (Lacey, WA)

An Emotional, Suspenseful Journey Back to Reality
Curious about the name, Piranesi, I looked it up and discovered an Italian artist, Giovanni Barista Piranesi (1720-1778) whose etching were said to depict "cavernous imaginary prisons" (The Free Dictionary - Piranesi). This definition so well defined the houses that Susanna Clarke's character, Piranesi, occupies in this captivating novel. Her mastery of descriptive language brings true emotion into the consoling relationship between Piranesi and the statues. It somewhat reminded me of the relationship between Tom Hanks and the basketball in the movie, Cast Away. Within the first few chapters one can well visualize the expansiveness of the chambers of this massive labyrinth, and could be pained by the Other's control over Piranesi. Each chapter thereafter was an enlightenment regarding the ingenuity, persistence and emotional impact derived from deprivation and the struggle for survival. Piranesi is a page-turner that unwinds with a crescendo as powerful as the flood tides depicted in the book. Susanna Clarke has produced an extraordinary experience and I thank her for an enthralling read.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Roberta R. (West Bloomfield, MI)

Piranesi
I loved the book, I couldn't put it down. The author's prose was beautiful, you could visualize yourself as being right with the protagonist in the caves, particularly in the first one third of the book. The pace was quick. The only criticism I might have is that the ending was a bit of a "letdown" from the rest of the book.

I would consider that the book would be a good read for a variety of readers; book clubs, adults and young adults. I don't read a lot of magical fantasy books, so I think that even non-fantasy readers would enjoy.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Karen B. (Crestwood, KY)

Haunting & Inventive Mystery/Fantasy
Clarke combines elements of fantasy and mystery in a wholly original and thoroughly intriguing tale. Through the limited point of view of the journal entries of the narrator, mockingly named Piranesi by the "Other," the reader is drawn into a labyrinthine world inhabited by statues and skeletons, and ruled by the tides. The reader senses there is a larger story in play that is slowly and satisfyingly revealed. Ambiguous and atmospheric, I'd recommend this book for readers seeking portals into other worlds, who don't mind being somewhat disoriented upon first entering.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Dan W. (Fort Myers, FL)

Mysteries Occurring In The House
What a remarkable reading experience! I was clueless at what to expect from reading this marvelous book. I did know I was looking for a read that would take me away from the daily bombardment of news about a vicious and unrelenting virus spreading throughout the world. This book took me to a place I could escape this horrible reality for at least a while. I admit I was perplexed as to what I was actually reading about. I was so focused on rationalizing the characters Piranesi and Other that I was missing the wonderful story being told. I would recommend this book to anyone seeking a break from the strife and distress of the alarming news we are being constantly being saturated with and as yet with no end in sight. I plan to reread this book at a more leisurely pace to dwell in the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides which thunder up staircases and everything else occurring in the House.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Alyson R. (Spokane, WA)

A palace for forgotten human ideas...
It is a challenge to say anything about the novel Piranesi without giving the plot away. If you enjoy thinking outside of the box, wondering at the possibilities the world, this treatise on "what could be" is for you. While the numeric identification of the halls in the novel can be tedious, you really do get insight into mind frame of the narrator and protagonist, Piranesi, and the enduring power of the human spirit to see goodness in the world. Stick with it - this is a short read but a gem. Think "Memento" meets Ariadne in the labyrinth.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Vicki R. (York, PA)

Halls and Statues
I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Piranesi" by Susanna Clarke. The narrator's journal entries are very descriptive, and I got a real sense of what he was feeling as he traverses this huge habitat of halls and statues. I learned right along with him as to where he is and how he came to be there. The characters are well developed, and I found myself empathizing with the narrator and rooting for him to find "happiness". Although the structure of "Piranesi" may not appeal to everyone, if you enjoy sci-fi/fantasy books you must give this one a try.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Ann B. (Kernville, CA)

Enter this strange but enthralling labyrinth
Imagine waking in the middle of a 3D labyrinth populated by only statues, neoclassical architecture, the sea and clouds. It would be confusing at first, certainly, just as the first chapters of Susanna Clarke's new speculative fiction novel are. But as you wander this surreal world with the character Piranesi, you'll become oriented to this strangeness. I use the word 'strange' on purpose. It is a word you might associate with Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, but be warned, the two books are very different. Piranesi's requires patience, but as its mystery wrapped in fantasy reveals itself, you might, as I did, fall deeply into its thrall. 
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Jennie W. (Denver, CO)

Piranesi
I loved this book. The characters are well written and stay with you long after you finish the book. The author's descriptions of the halls is amazing and I found that I wanted to explore more with Piranesi. The themes of loneliness and isolation are so relevant to our times today. It is the perfect read.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Rebecca H. (Bolton, CT)

Piranesi
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is a surreal marvel of a story. Piranesi lives in a world enclosed by walls, a vast labyrinthine structure confining an ocean, that he names the House. The House contains huge rooms filled with statues and winding halls that connect them. The tides of the ocean sweep through the halls, bringing Piranesi fish and sometimes floods. The only other beings in this world are birds, which occasionally nest in the rooms, skeletons, and a man whom Piranesi names the Other. As the story unwinds, Piranesi becomes aware that the Other comes from a different world, and that there are more of his kind who have visited the House before and may come again. The Other warns Piranesi against these visitors, but as more information becomes available to him, Piranesi wonders if the Other is indeed the wise companion he has always trusted. Then the woman Raphael appears. Who is his friend, and who is his enemy?
Told from the point of view of Piranesi by means of his journal entries, Clarke's novel is full of fabulous imagery and startling revelations. The entries document Piranesi's shifting perceptions as he wanders through the maze of the House and of his own divided mind.
Clarke's poetic language and a compelling plot make the reader's journey through the story mesmerizing. I finished the book in two days because it was so hard to stop reading! I highly recommend the book for those who enjoy literary fantasy and mystery.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Peggy T. (Richardson, TX)

Piranesi
Amazing, puzzling, angsty at first. What is that thing about a puzzle wrapped in an enigma (or maybe the other way around)? Whichever it is, this book is it. Piranesi made me think of Candide. An optimistic innocent exploring the World (his caps, not mine). Then the puzzle begins to resolve and I felt relief and joy for this character, my friend.
Slightly confusing at first; hence the angst, but stick with it and you will be greatly rewarded. I want to read it again. Right now.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Kay D. (Strongsville, OH)

An Amazing Read
So thrilled that I was able to read an advance copy of this book. Although a bit of a struggle at the beginning, I soon got into the rhythm of the writing and then found I didn't want to put it down. I was compelled to keep reading. The descriptive details were at first overwhelming, but became more easily digested as the story continued. I advise readers to just keep reading if they find themselves burdened at the beginning.

Seeing the "world" from Piranesi's perspective was a wonderful experience. His recording of everything in his journals and the use of the journals to tell the story was unique. It provided a platform for the entire storyline to play out. The interjection of the "real world" into Piranesi's "world", his eventual interjection back into the "real world" and then the melding of all experiences bends the mind just enough to challenge everything. At the same time, it make the reader want to experience Piranesi's "house of many rooms" for a long time.

Ms. Clarke has done an awesome job delivering a unique, compelling book. I am still contemplating the multiple levels of this book and absorbing the twists and turns. Is it another world? Is it real? Is it madness? Is is something else altogether? Each reader will gather their own conclusions.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Elizabeth V. (Bellbrook, OH)

Not Enough of a Good Thing
Piranesi was a perfect story to read during the pandemic with its underlying themes of loneliness and isolation. The story was intriguing, the characters were memorable and the world building was exquisite. My only criticism is that there was not enough of any of it. I would have loved to spend more time wandering the Halls with Piranesi and to learn more of the history of the thirteen people who inhabited the Halls like like the Biscuit-Box Man, and the Folded-Up Child; who they were and how they came to be there. I would have liked more detail on how Piranesi learned to live in the strange world he found himself in. It feels like there are many stories left to tell in this world and I hated to see it end so soon.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Allison

Piranesi
Piranesi is the long-awaited new book by Susanna Clarke, published 15 years after her international bestseller Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Piranesi's subject and feel is a departure from her first book, but it is by no means less brilliant and captivating. Clarke shows her skill of beautiful world building and creating characters that one feels like they know and will miss when the tale is ended.
The story of Piranesi and the House is both haunting and beautiful. I could tell fairly early on what was happening, but it in no way diminished the joy and thrill of seeing how it all played out. The end had a bittersweet feel that left me wanting to stay with the characters longer and continue to converse with them.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough!
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Lori L. (La Porte, IN)

Susanna Clarke's Piranesi
This book is set in a labyrinth-like palace made up of statue-filled halls and an ocean that moves in and out of rooms in shifting tides. Piranesi lives there alone, with periodic appearances by a mysterious Other, and catalogues the rooms, statues, and tides in a meticulous system of notebooks. Both Piranesi and the Other are in search of a lost form of Knowledge, and as a reader, we are also in the position of trying to figure out exactly what's going on in this dreamy, hypnotic world. Very different from her first book, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanne Clarke has created a beautiful, disorienting tale.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Courtney N. (Chicago, IL)

A strange new world
This book is almost impossible to review. It's strange and haunting tale of the secrets of the universe and the evil that can be found inside humans. To say more would give away too much of the story. I will say that I was utterly confused at the beginning of the book and it was not until about halfway through that I started to understand enough to really enjoy the story.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Linda S. (Tucker, GA)

Good Book for Fantasy Lovers
"Piranesi," Susanna Clarke's ethereal new novel is quite different from her previous novel, "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell." Although both books tell unusual stories, "Piranesi" is set in an alternate reality, a dream-world, and features an unreliable narrator and a mystery. Ultimately, while I enjoyed Clarke's first book, her new book is not for me. I prefer real people with real world problems, however, readers who enjoy fantasy will undoubtedly enjoy this well-written novel.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Borderlass

A Labyrinthine Tale
"Piranesi" is a charming story of fantastical fiction incorporating a parallel world to our own. The alternative universe consists of many interlinked stone structures laid out much as a labyrinth in which innumerable vestibules hold many large statuary and seemingly only two live human beings - all beholden to the tides and other features of sea-based existence. In reading this, despite absurd elements one might expect in a psychedelic-induced state, the writing carries the reader along to its conclusion sufficiently fast enough so that should one tire of its dream-like Piscean world, a satisfying, almost logical ending is our well-earned reward. This genre is not everyone's cup of tea, but for what it is, it seems nicely done. If a book group wanted to dabble in a bit of "magical sci-fi escape fiction" with broad appeal, this would be a good pick.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Peggy H. (North East, PA)

An Interesting Journey for our Times
I must admit, this book took a while for me to get into...I kept wondering,,what is the point? But like any good mystery, things are revealed meticulously. Once I was half way through, I found that I could not put it down.

In a world of stay at home, it seems fitting for the main character to be trapped in a world without realizing it. How many of us have created out own worlds and not seen the way out?

This book is not for everyone, but it is well written and thought provoking.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Andrea B. (Rockledge, PA)

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Piranesi is the sole caretaker of a very unusual realm. Most of the time, he sets about mapping and observing the world's features in his journals. Twice a week, he meets with and relays his findings to a visitor known as "The Other," a man who is eager to unearth a special knowledge supposedly hidden there. The discoveries they make are very illuminating.

This story is an incredibly evocative and creative interpretation of Giambattista Piranesi themes: architecture, labyrinths, imprisonment, contrasts, etc. It does require commitment by the reader but will leave a lasting impression.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Catheryne Z. (Plano, TX)

A labyrinth mystery
Piranesi is an interesting book that unfolds as you read along. Piranesi lives in a house/world consisting of labyrinths of halls with statues. The ocean water flows in through the halls. The Other is the only other person there. The Other warns him of a number 16 character who is looking for them and dangerous. Piranesi continues to find clues about his past and situation. I don't want to give more details or it will spoil the book for the reader. The book flows well. At first, it is confusing and hard to follow. The author does a great job unfolding the story. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy a story that includes mysteries to discover.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Vivian H. (Winchester, VA)

Fascinating & Bizarre
Piranesi is a fascinating story in an alternative universe setting that was at times challenging for me to plow through. This genre is quite different from my usual preferences. I was intrigued enough to keep reading while questioning why I continued. I was caught up in the labyrinth. Piranesi is a difficult book to describe. I wanted answers. But, the journey was not easy. The book is thought provoking. It caused me to consider the lengths some academics would go to prove a hypothesis. It caused me to consider the effects of environment on mental health. I had to consider whether I was reading someone's fantasy, delusion, dream or incomprehensible reality with uncertain time, place, historical context, or alternate universe. I'm still unsure.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Norma R. (Secaucus, NJ)

Piranesi
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is a novel set in a dreamlike alternative reality. Piranesi, the main character, lives in a infinite stone castle with room after room of statues and skeletons. Tides often flood part of the castle. Piranesi is an unreliable narrator who keeps meticulous journals. His main point of contact is the Other, who tries to control him. Piranesi has no contact with the outside world. But through his journals who find out about other characters. The story keeps your attention as you try to understand Piranesi. I was unsure until towards the end what was actually happening. I recommend this book, I enjoyed the way the plot was developed. It might be challenging as a book club read. Everyone must finish the book before the discussion.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Celia P. (Melbourne, FL)

Better As It Progressed
Piranesi is the name that the Other calls the Narrator. They live in a structure composed of many halls, many of which are inundated by the sea. The halls are 'peopled' by statues that seem to stand for something: a woman carrying a beehive; a dog-fox teaching two squirrels and two satyrs; two children laughing, one of them carrying a flute. Piranesi is quite naive. I found it hard to relate to him.

This book was a slow starter for me. I thought that it was only going to be about statues, floods and an unreliable narrator.

Then the characters started to take shape in my mind and a story developed. I liked the book and would recommend it.

I thank BookBrowse for a free copy of this book. It is a GREAT book for the right audience.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Mary G. (Greensboro, GA)

Like Floating Down a Lazy River
Readers familiar with Susanna Clarke's book, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, will not be surprised to learn that this is a very unusual story. It takes place almost entirely in a house with a seemingly unending number of levels and hallways. The story's narrator spends his days cataloging the rooms in each hallway, which are filled with statuary. I will admit that I found the constant references to the hallways by geographical location a nuisance and I just skipped over them.

Water is a dominant force in this book so I would liken the reading experience to floating down a lazy river. The plot moves slowly and deliberately throughout most of the book but picks up momentum as it moves toward the conclusion. There were enough clues offered throughout the book to hint at the ending so the reveal felt satisfying—because by then you had a reasonable idea of what was happening—rather than an unfair trick.

I did enjoy this book. Reading it requires some patience but sometimes we just need to slow down and drift along.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Margaret A. (Cornelius, NC)

Piranesi
From the first line the story grabs your attention. The writing style may take some getting used to in that the story seems to be a mystery and/or a fantasy blended with reality.
Piranesi and "the Other are the only two in a house with infinite halls and statues. Piranesi has a meager existence in "the House". He keeps detailed journals cataloguing every space in the House. He sometimes helps the Other search for 'the Great and Secret Knowledge'. The Other's comes and goes; to and from where is unknown. There are hints throughout that there is more to what would appear to be a world separate from our own.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Janet W. (Davis, CA)

Weird and wonderful
This book will not be for everyone. It is fascinating and reads like you have been using a magic mushroom. Lots of detail and imagining. It boiled down to a very simple premise but took a most complicated path to that revelation. Susanna Clarke - I would love to get to know her...but not even sure that would be possible. She seems to inhabit another dimension.
Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Tonia H. (White Bear Lake, MN)

Didn't like
This was not my cup of tea. The book felt too long.

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