Piranesi live in the House. The House is expansive and full of many mysteries. Piranesi lives, for all intents and purposes, alone though the House is occupied by one other person, The Other. What mysteries does the House hold? What lessons is the House ready to teach? And that’s all I’ll say about the plot because the less you know going in, the better.
When we are all isolating and distancing from others as much as we can (at least, I hope we all are), Clarke’s writings of Piranesi’s isolation is oddly comforting. Piranesi is largely alone in the House and must survive on his own. He finds ways of not only nourishing his physical body with food and water but also his spiritual and mental self. Piranesi creates and cherishes his own rituals that border on religious. He finds personal meaning in the mundane happenings of the House, and those meanings are treated with dignity and respect throughout the entire book. I found myself reflecting on all of the new rituals and habits that I have developed while living in isolation and felt comforted that this process is likely universal.
Clarke also manages to create a story that is wholly and wonderfully unique will still jamming it full of allusions to other works. There is the clear and on the nose allusion to Giovanni Piranesi, artist of a collection known as The Prisons. There are also allusions to C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I’m sure there are more that I missed, but these allusions grounded an otherwise wholly fantastical work into what is established and known.
If you are a fan of audiobooks, I recommend this one in its audio format. The book is narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor. His voice is so silky smooth. He adds another layer of not wanting to put the book down, metaphorically speaking.