Piranesi lives in a house with many halls, with an Ocean trapped within. There are infinite statues, and birds and fish, and the remains of 13 people who had previously lived there. He lives in isolation save for the Other, who named him and spends one hour, twice a week with him, to talk of his scientific observations. The House is the only place Piransi knows, and he has lived there from the beginning of time. But the arrival of 16, as in the 16th person, would reveal that the Other, the House and even himself, are not what they seem.
The first few pages were a struggle for me. I have been in a years long reading funk (COVID anxiety and my stupid eyes) and I was reading the book trying to make and accurate map of the world in my mind, and it was tripping me up. Finally, I just let the peculiar language and descriptions wash over, to form a nebulous sense of the place, which, I found, made itself clearer as I read further.
It would do a disservice to those who had not yet read the book to write more of the plot into this review, but that is not to say that the plot is the best thing about it. This book is so different from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell (the author’s first novel, which I also enjoyed immensely). The first book was quite long, charming and wryly funny. Piranesi is slight, almost a novella. It is narrated by Piranesi, through his detailed journals, and his writing is odd and formal but also dreamy, especially in the first part. You will be taken in by his ingenuity, innocence and innate goodness.
I read the book as a meditation on isolation and loneliness, and the exquisite peace it sometimes brings. But no matter the strength of the pull of isolation, the stronger need to connect with other people always wins out. I really, really loved this book, and to be honest, I did not expect to be crying by the end, but I was.