Summary and book reviews of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi

by Susanna Clarke

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

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Book Summary

From the New York Times bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, an intoxicating, hypnotic new novel set in a dreamlike alternative reality.

Piranesi's house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller's Circe, Piranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

Chapter 3

A list of all the people who have ever lived and what is known of them

Entry for the Tenth Day of the Fifth Month in the Year the Albatross came to the South-Western Halls

Since the World began it is certain that there have existed fifteen people. Possibly there have been more; but I am a scientist and must proceed according to the evidence. Of the fifteen people whose existence is verifiable, only Myself and the Other are now living.

I will now name the fifteen people and give, where relevant, their positions.


First Person: Myself

I believe that I am between thirty and thirty-five years of age. I am approximately 1.83 metres tall and of a slender build.


Second Person: The Other

I estimate the Other's age to be between fifty and sixty. He is approximately 1.88 metres tall and, like me, of a slender build. He is strong and fit for his age. His skin is a pale olive colour. His short hair and moustache are dark brown. He has a beard that is greying; almost white, it ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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)...continued

Full Review Members Only (683 words).

(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
Piranesi is a high-quality page-turner-even the most leisurely reader will probably finish it off in a day--but its chief pleasure is immersion in its strange and uncannily attractive setting ... Establishing that sense of totality--and the feeling of peacefulness that accompanies it--is Ms. Clarke's standout feat.

The Boston Globe
Could Piranesi match [the hype]? I'm delighted to say it has, with Clarke's singular wit and imagination still intact in a far more compressed yet still captivating tale you'll want to delve into again right after you read its sublime last sentence.

Lev Grossman, TIME Magazine
Nobody writes about magic the way Clarke does ... She writes about magic as if she's actually worked it.

BookPage (starred review)
Almost impossible to put down… lavishly descriptive, charming, heartbreaking and imbued with a magic that will be familiar to Clarke's devoted readers, Piranesi will satisfy lovers of Jonathan Strange and win her many new fans.

Washington Post
The hypnotic quality of Piranesi stems largely from how majestically Clarke conjures up this surreal House. It is not a place in the world; it’s a world unto itself...This is the abiding magic of Clarke’s novel: We’re as likely to pity Piranesi for his cheerful acceptance of imprisonment as we are to envy him for his ready appreciation of the world as he finds it. Clarke conceived of this story long before the coronavirus pandemic, but tragedy has made Piranesi resonate with a planet in quarantine. To abide in these pages is to find oneself happily detained in awe.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Readers who accompany [Piranesi] as he learns to understand himself will see magic returning to our world. Weird and haunting and excellent.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Clarke wraps a twisty mystery inside a metaphysical fantasy in her extraordinary new novel ... Sure to be recognized as one of the year's most inventive.

Booklist (starred review)
As questions multiply and suspense mounts in this spellbinding, occult puzzle of a fable, one begins to wonder if perhaps the reverence, kindness, and gratitude practiced by Clarke's enchanting and resilient hero aren't all the wisdom one truly needs.

Library Journal (starred review)
Clarke creates an immersive world that readers can almost believe exists. This is a solid crossover pick for readers whose appreciation of magical fantasy leans toward V.E. Schwab or Erin Morgenstern.

AARP
Unforgettable - surely one of the most original works of fiction this season. It drops you into a mind-bending fantasy world, a vast labyrinth with infinite rooms and seas that sweep into halls and up staircases with the tides. … It's a hypnotic tale that you can devour in a day (and probably will; it's that hard to put down).

Author Blurb Madeline Miller, New York Times bestselling author of Circe
Piranesi astonished me. It is a miraculous and luminous feat of storytelling, at once a gripping mystery, an adventure through a brilliant new fantasy world, and a deep meditation on the human condition: feeling lost, and being found. I already want to be back in its haunting and beautiful halls!

Author Blurb Erin Morgenstern, New York Times bestselling author of The Starless Sea and The Night Circus
Piranesi is a gorgeous, spellbinding mystery that gently unravels page by page. Precisely the sort of book that I love wordlessly handing to someone so they can have the pleasure of uncovering its secrets for themselves. This book is a treasure, washed up upon a forgotten shore, waiting to be discovered."

Author Blurb David Mitchell, New York Times bestselling author of Cloud Atlas
What a world Susanna Clarke conjures into being, what a tick-tock-tick-tock of reveals, what a pure protagonist, what a morally-squalid supporting cast, what beauty, tension and restraint, and what a pitch-perfect ending. Piranesi is an exquisite puzzle-box far, far bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Reader Reviews

Ssemaganda Edward

It's good
Good for all age categories.

Anna Maria Rowe

Magical
This is one of the most cinematic books I have ever read. It is a feat of imagination. Be prepared to expand your mind a little before you start this. It challenges perceptions of reality and identity. It's going to take you to another world of ...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)

The Staircase with Trophies etching by Piranesi featuring intricate staircases and stone columnsIn Susannah Clarke's novel Piranesi, the titular character lives in a fantastical, labyrinthine home filled with endless hallways, rooms, statues and even an ocean. It's a remarkably inventive setting, and, as our savvy First Impressions reader Lorraine D. noticed, the protagonist's name is a reference to a likely source of inspiration for the author.

The Italian artist and architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi is best known for his etchings, including a series of 16 pieces called "Imaginary Prisons," which feature detailed designs of dungeons with intricate stairwells, torture devices, towers, pillars and arches that likely also inspired the work of M.C. Escher. Piranesi is considered one of the most significant artists of the Italian ...

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