I have to brag about this book! Piranesi is the most elegant, masterfully woven tale of magical realism I have red to date this year — if not the last few years, to be honest. Though on the surface it’s a quiet, richly detailed labyrinthine literary adventure, underneath the narrative lies a symbolic depiction of one man’s descent into and subsequent recovery from mental illness. It’s a work of true genius, poignantly and deftly rendered.
The effect on me has been so profound, I will hardly be able to forget what I’ve read.
In terms of plot particulars, Piranesi lives in a House like no other, with endless corridors lined by an infinite variety of statues. He’s learned his way around the labyrinth, memorizing the times of the ocean tides that come sweeping up the stairs and crashing through the hallways, flooding the House’s rooms and sealing in its secrets. There is one Other who visits the House twice a week, and asks for Piranesi’s help with research into a Great and Secret Knowledge.
Contrary to his belief that only fifteen people exist in the world, thirteen of whom are dead inside the House, Piranesi learns there is a 16. When indications of 16’s presence emerge in the halls of the House, Piranesi uncovers evidence of a life he used to know, one that is no longer familiar to him, but which he desperately seeks to remember.
Few books leave me feeling this haunted after finishing them, but Piranesi is one of them. With poetic and lyrical prose, Susanna Clarke lulled me into a lush fantasy world I didn’t want to leave. Her theme is what resonates with me most strongly, though. It echoes down every corridor in the labyrinth, whispers from every statue lining the House’s walls, and can perhaps best be summed up by Piranesi’s own words: The Beauty of the House is immeasureable; its kindness infinite.
Must a thing be deemed real to be of ultimate value to mankind? Whether imagined or not, the House’s inherent spiritual value is what both sustains Piranesi during his time there, and rehabilitates him to the larger world he once knew and must become a part of once again.
Read this book, guys. You have to. Then message me and tell me what you think. I’ll probably be reading the book a second or a third time, nose pressed tight against the pages.