4.5 star, adult

Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

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.

Overall Recommendation:

Piranesi was this disorienting and immersive read that took me through the many Vestibules and Hallways of a grand House Piranesi introduced us to. I had no idea what I was signing up for in the beginning but by the end, I can honestly say I’ve never read anything quite like this book. The journalistic entry style made every new discovery interesting, and I was so excited to see where Piranesi’s journey would take him.

I’ll be honest, Piranesi is not a book I would’ve picked out for myself from the synopsis or even the first few chapters. Full disclosure, I read this book for a book club I’m joining at my work. BUT, that being said, this was perhaps one of the better books I’ve read so far this year. And here is why.

We are immediately dropped into this strange and disorienting world, seeing it through the eyes of someone who refers to himself by no name except “Myself”. It’s only later that we realize his name, maybe, is Piranesi, or so he’s called by the only other living person in this world of many endless rooms, hallways, antechambers, etc. There are statues everywhere depicting all sorts of people, scenery and items. A raging sea washes below in tides in the lower halls of this House, while clouds move about in the upper halls that occasionally provide rain.

Written in journal entries by Piranesi, the information we glean about this world comes in pieces. This makes it less confusing in some ways – definitely no information overload – but it’s also a little slow in the beginning for that reason. However, I will say having this story written in journal entries is truly a highlight for the story. We discover things in real time along with Piranesi as we learn things are not as he originally understood the world to be. So in later sections, the anticipation of what would pop up in the next entry is practically palpable.

The writing itself presents in a dreamlike state. Piranesi’s voice is calm, detail oriented and descriptive. Yes, this may not be for everyone, especially for those who enjoy more conversational writing. But this quality was needed, in my opinion, to immerse us into this world that is nothing like our own. I felt like I was walking those Halls with him, seeing the birds fly above, catching that fish for food and drying seaweed for clothes. By the end of it, I felt a little sad that I would no longer be reading about this calm world and its interactions with Piranesi. That’s the sheer beauty of Clarke’s writing that evoked such a 180 turn of emotion in me. I will say I was quite jaded at the beginning, and not the least bit annoyed, that this book was so wordy and full of descriptive pages. Oh how everything clearly changed!

Aside from the writing, there is in fact a plot in here. I know, right? But immediately after a couple of meetings with the “Other” as Piranesi calls him, there definitely seemed to be more information out in this World than what we were understanding from Piranesi’s POV. The mystery surrounding our gap in knowledge was intriguing, although I guessed quite early on what may be the case. I don’t think it’s a mystery meant to be unknowable to us, the reader. It’s seeing how Piranesi would have to reconcile with the changes in his own world perception that is highly interesting. And of course, what would be the ultimate outcome upon reaching such a conclusion about the World?

I’ve been raving so many positive things about this book so far, but the thing that sticks out the most is how much I adore Piranesi as a character. He’s such a pure and innocent soul, yet he also feels realistic even though none of us are really like that. What makes or breaks a book for me is whether your narrator is someone you can stand because we see the world through their eyes. And oh boy, it was truly a wonder to see the world through Piranesi’s eyes.

To conclude, I don’t think this is everyone’s cup of tea, but I didn’t think it was going to be a book for me either in the beginning. This is so far out of the norm of my reading genres, yet I’m so profoundly happy that I got to immerse myself in Piranesi’s story. All the accolades are very well deserved, and I encourage you to give this a shot even if the synopsis sounds like nothing you have ever read or wanted to read before. It may just change your perspective.


4 thoughts on “Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke”

  1. I listened to this book as an audiobook a few months back and I felt similar to you, that I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it really won me over! It’s such an unusual book but I ended up loving it and I’m so glad I gave it a chance~

    Liked by 1 person

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