Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Published in 2004 and the winner of a slew of literary awards, Susanna Clarke’s debut Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is one of those remarkable books that changes the landscape of an entire genre. Fifteen years later, Clarke has finally released a second novel, and it is wholeheartedly worth the wait.
The world of Piranesi begins and ends within the walls of an extraordinary House that is made up of limitless halls, staircases, passages and vestibules. It is home to birds, fish, countless allegorical statues, the bleached remains of precisely thirteen humans, and two people: our narrator – who calls himself Piranesi, though he is certain that it is not his name – and the Other.
It is through Piranesi’s journals that the reader discovers the world that he inhabits. Seen through his eyes, the House is a place of surreal beauty that gives food, shelter and comfort to those who seek it. Piranesi’s childlike naivety overlooks the dangers and dark secrets that the house holds: the flooding Tides, the bitter cold, the isolation, and the fact that the only other inhabitant of the House certainly knows more than he’s letting on, and definitely doesn’t have Piranesi’s best interests at heart.
It’s impossible to talk about this book without giving too much away, and one of the great pleasures of Piranesi is the gentle unravelling of the mystery at the heart of the novel (and at the heart of Piranesi himself). This is a gorgeously written piece of fiction – at once poetic and sparse, metaphysical and cinematic. I tore through it at breakneck pace, simultaneously desperate to learn the truth and begging myself to slow down and enjoy the journey. For readers who love the literary fantasies of Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman or Erin Morgenstern, Piranesi is simply a must-read.