Upon finishing this, all I could really do was say “what” out loud. Repeatedly.
This book is a labyrinth, and I got lost in it. In a good way. Like, I kind of want to go back in right now and explore its intricacies some more.
But I suppose I should write a review first.
Piranesi, the first book by Susanna Clarke (of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell fame) in about fifteen years, tells the story of the titular character, who lives in an endless world of halls, statues, and waves. He leads a simple but contented life, only occasionally interacting with the Other, his only friend. Indeed, the Other is the only person here besides Piranesi. Together, they wish to discover the Great and Secret Knowledge, which the Other is convinced exists. But the more Piranesi learns, the more he realizes something is amiss, not only within himself, but in this world as well.
I started this book having virtually no idea what to expect. I like Clarke’s writing and have been anticipating this book for a while, so I didn’t look too hard at what it was about. And I’m glad, because it was so fun to be surprised. This book… was an experience. I did not expect to be so affected, but here I am, writing this in a daze a half an hour after closing the book. The tone, the imagery, the pacing, the characters—all incredible. There is such precision in this writing, and it twists in such unexpected directions that you feel entirely swept along.
The characters are stellar. Piranesi has an unusual but brilliantly written voice, and being immersed so deeply in his perspective is what makes this book remarkable. You see hints of this puzzle of a plot start to poke in, but you are mostly solving things through his eyes. It’s amazing.
The other characters—without going into too much detail for fear of spoilers—are equally compelling. They’re such a contrast to Piranesi, and the slow unraveling/development of relationships is fascinating to witness.
This story is both a haunting mystery and what feels like one immense metaphor. The writing is atmospheric, more so than Clarke’s previous work, which was already awesome. Fans of The Night Circus and Circe will certainly love this (in fact, both those authors have blurbs on the back of this book).
The one thing I didn’t love was the almost excessive capitalization. Piranesi has an interesting writing style (which we see a lot of, since the book is in the form of his diary entries), and it wouldn’t be for everyone. It isn’t the stylistic choice I would have gone for, but I got used to it and admittedly Clarke does make it work.
But in the end, if you couldn’t tell, I really like Piranesi. Clarke is a skilled, powerful writer, and is totally in control of this story. It’s a spectacular and totally bizarre tale. It won’t work for everyone, but it certainly worked for me. I already know I’m going to read it again.
See you in the House.
Overall rating: 9/10
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