BookBrowse Reviews Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

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Piranesi

by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke X
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2021, 272 pages

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In this mysterious fantasy novel, Susanna Clarke invites readers on a journey through an unusual world where magic awaits around every corner.

Our First Impressions readers were delighted with this speculative novel by Susanna Clarke, her first since the bestselling Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in 2004.

What it's about:

Piranesi lives in a world enclosed by walls confining an ocean, a vast labyrinthine structure that he calls 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 when a woman named Raphael appears, he begins to wonder who he can trust. The novel is told from Piranesi's point-of-view through his journal entries, which document the shifts in his perceptions as he wanders through the maze of the House and his own divided mind (Rebecca H).

Many readers appreciated the unique setting and the author's remarkable worldbuilding:

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 novel are. But as you wander this surreal world with the character Piranesi, you become oriented to this strangeness. Piranesi requires patience, but as its mystery wrapped in fantasy reveals itself, you might, as I did, fall deeply into its thrall (Ann B). The author's description 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 (Jennie W). The story was intriguing, the characters were memorable and the worldbuilding was exquisite (Elizabeth V). The author's prose was beautiful, I could visualize myself right there with the protagonist in the House (Roberta R).

Some found the beginning of the book a little challenging...

It's slightly confusing at first, but stick with it and you will be greatly rewarded (Peggy T). 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 (Courtney N). 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 (Peggy H). 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. I advise readers to stick with it if they find themselves burdened at the beginning (Kay D).

...but even more felt they did not want to let Piranesi go when they finished:

The end had a bittersweet feeling that left me wanting to stay with the characters longer and continue to converse with them. I cannot recommend this book highly enough! (Allison). I want to read it again. Right now (Peggy T). 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 House. It feels like there are many stories left to tell in this world and I hated to see it end so soon. (Elizabeth V). I would recommend this book to anyone seeking a break from the strife and distress of the alarming news of the world. 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 (Dan W).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2020, and has been updated for the October 2021 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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