Book Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Book Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lovely. Odd, incredibly odd, but lovely both in spite of and due to the oddity. There’s an elegance to this book that feels like a rarity. For a novel that is less than 300 pages, Piranesi is quite the slow burn. The first half of this short book took me four days to read. Not that it was boring, mind you. It was meditative, inviting you as the reader to mull and ponder instead of racing forward to see what happens next. But then I read the second half in one sitting. When things finally picked up in the narrative, my attention never wavered.

“The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.”

I found Piranesi quite similar to The Starless Sea in setting, though not quite as magical. Both are encompassed by labyrinthine, otherworldly interconnected rooms that house things which shouldn’t be indoors according to the rules of nature. However, the voice is very different in each of the novels. Piranesi’s narrator is a more modern Robinson Crusoe, complete with capitalized common nouns in his internal monologue. (Which drives me a little crazy.) But this is mostly done in relation to the House, which kept the writing choice from being pretentious and actually served a purpose. This capitalization of any common noun in reference to the House is a visual demonstration of the narrator’s religious reverence for it.

“The House is valuable because it is the House. It is enough in and of Itself. It is not the means to an end.”

There is an innocence to the narrator that makes him almost too precious, but is ultimately quite charming. His is a pure soul, its hard edges worn away by the Tides of the House. As stated above, he is a fervent devotee of the House that comprises his world, and his adoration of the place is really quite lovely. However, there are times when the narrator is intentionally thick, his naiveté causing him to miss glaringly obvious clues to the mysteries surrounding him. While I found him incredibly sympathetic, these moments of intentional blindness were exasperating. But it was honestly fascinating to be given a story from a perspective that provided all the necessary information with which to infer answers by a narrator who couldn’t see those answers himself for so much of the book.

“Perhaps even people you like and admire immensely can make you see the World in ways you would rather not.”

The mystery elements of the book were intriguing, but I found myself wanting more. I want to know more about the House, more about those who interacted with it, and more about how it relates to our world and others. At times, this short book felt like it was dragging on forever, but it also felt too short to satisfying deal with such an intriguing topic. All in all, though, Piranesi is a unique, graceful, beautifully written story, and I’ll be thinking about it for a long time to come.

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

  1. I really liked this one and I think it’s incredible how different Susanna Clarke told this story when you compare it to “Jonathan Strange&Mr Norrell”. Different perspective, different tone and very much not a 1000+ pages book!

      1. I don’t think that’s embarassing at all, I think that one is one of the hardest books ever to get into. The whole writing is just so…challenging? I’ve read Dorian Grey just before that one and I think if hadn’t done so, I wouldn’t have been able to make it though Strange&Norrell. A beautiful book, but the language definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea!

  2. I loved Jonathan Strange so much! And your review confirms Piranesi too will be wise and beautiful and hard-hitting and intense. Just as I expected… And now I’m really afraid of reading Piranesi!

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