Thursday, December 9, 2021

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Published September 2020 by Bloomsbury USA
Pages 272

Publisher's Summary: 
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.

My Thoughts: 
I've been reading...sort of...but I haven't been able to make myself sit down and right a book review for a few weeks. Even when I've enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed Piranesi. Clarke's first book was the door stopper Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I have never picked up for two reasons: 1) it's nearly 900 pages long and 2) the word "magic" appears in the book description. If you've been around long, you know that magic, magical realism, fantasy are book ideas that I tend to veer away from. But Piranesi won the Women's Prize for Fiction in 2020 so, without even reading the description, I requested it from the library. 

And, once again, it's been proven that sometimes a book that leaves reality behind can be just what I need. 

The entire book is told through Piranesi's journals, the journals of a person who lives almost entirely along in a labyrinth of halls and vestibules so expansive that he can walk for hours to reach a hall he has meticulously mapped over his time there. He has managed to figure out how to sustain himself using what the tides bring to him and the few gifts that The Other brings. Piranesi seems content with his life exploring and caring for the 13 human skeletons he has come across in his explorations. But the more he explores, the more he talks to The Other, the more questions he begins to have. And when another human appears in the halls, everything Piranesi has believed in begins to unravel. Who can he trust? Where did the stories in his earliest journals come from? 

Clarke has managed, in under 300 pages, to create a story that Kirkus Reviews calls "weird and haunting and excellent." It is every bit of that and more. While there's nothing here that we can relate to as being a part of our everyday lives, everyone of us can relate to the wonder, the fear, the sadness that Piranesi experiences. And who wouldn't like the idea of a world you could retreat to when the real world becomes too much, a world where magic still exists? This book took me away from the real world and I needed that right now. 

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