September 17, 2020 • Cee • Reviews

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke • September 15, 2020 • Bloomsbury
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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.


First sentence: “When the Moon rose in the Third Northern Hall I went to the Ninth Vestibule to witness the joining of three Tides.”

Beware: Don’t read too much about the world of Piranesi. You’ll want to go into this blind because it’s a wonderful journey full of magic and beauty about a weird majestic House with endless wonders. (This goes without saying, don’t expect another Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.)

Piranesi is a hard book to describe, if only because anything I want to say about this book feels like a spoiler that readers need to unveil themselves. How can people even understand the breathtaking magic you find in the House with its infinite Halls and Vestibules with marble statues and the waves crashing around like you’re near the seaside?

There’s something very dreamlike about this world that Susanna Clarke created. This surreal house has a way of hypnotizing you with its beauty. It’s no wonder Piranesi falls. 

(If you haven’t read Piranesi, stop reading this and read the book now if you want a weird, dream-like story!!!)

Written in epistolary format, Piranesi fills his journals with observations of his day-to-day life. There’s nothing he doesn’t note, like he catalogs the positions of where all the statues are and when the tide rolls through halls crashing against the walls and what happens in his meetings with the Other about the Great and Secret Knowledge.

Some people will google Piranesi and learn of an 18th-century Italian artist by the name of Giovanni Piranesi who was famous for his series of etchings of “Imaginary Prisons that depicted complex labrinyth-like structures and architecture. With that in your head, it gives you a tiny idea of what Piranesi is—like the bare bones of the structure that turns into what you find in this world.

To anybody else, the House would feel like a prison, but not Piranesi. Call Piranesi naive, but god, he’s a very wholesome character to watch. He is a child of this Beloved House. He certainly sound like someone who’s been brainwashed, and that’s not surprising considering Piranesi who doesn’t have a clue of who he is (except that he knows his name is not Piranesi).

You see the awe and beauty of the House through Piranesi’s eyes. Imagine these structures that you’d find in a museum—classical-looking architecture with statues like minotaurs and a woman holding a beehive living in peace with nature (the water, the clouds, the birds) itself.

But all isn’t what it seems with the House with the ominous vibe surrounding the story. It’s disorienting experience when you first read the book; you’re plopped into this wondrous world of halls that you can’t keep track of. It’s like a maze. You encounter a gazillion Halls like the second South Western Hall or the twenty-third Vestibule. It’s hard not to be lost in the story, but once you stick with it and start seeing things from Piranesi’s eyes, it’s easy sailing. Piranesi speaks so much about the beauty in the simplest things, and how different people approach and embrace it.

Piranesi is a mystery worth watching the titular character figure out. It’s not so much about us figuring out what has happened; it’s watching Piranesi put the pieces together with the narrowed lenses that he has on.

Should you read Piranesi? Yes!!! Let this surreal beauty into your life! I love how weird it is, and yet it’s a stunning books that speaks about the wonders you’ll find in life.


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