Sometimes, when I’m enjoying the world of a book, I start reading slowly and lingering over each passage because I don’t want it to end. Piranesi is just over 250 pages, but I savoured it over the course of two weeks.
Susanna Clarke is something of a magician herself. I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for its atmosphere, likable and/or vivid characters, and subtle humour, and although Piranesi is a completely different sort of book, I loved it for the same reasons.
Every single review I have read (many of them from Cannonball readers here) says that you should go into this book knowing as little as possible. I don’t think I disagree, really, but it also doesn’t take too long to figure out a version of what’s going on. The reason for going in blind is to let the dreaminess wash over you.
Piranesi lives in a house that goes on and on, its walls lined with statues, the tides of the lower halls and the clouds of the upper halls changing with the seasons. The Beloved Child of the House, he explores the world, numbering the halls, memorizing the statues, speaking to the birds, fishing for food in the waters, and collecting data for a man he calls The Other, the only living person he knows to exist besides himself.
This is a book about Great and Secret Knowledge. It’s a book about loneliness and isolation. Memory and identity. About architecture and nature and respect for the places we inhabit.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is known for being a brick of a novel, so it’s a wonder to see what Clarke can do with so few words (relatively speaking) here. It’s difficult not to fall a little bit in love with Piranesi and the part of ourselves he represents. Other reviewers (Nataliya on Goodreads and tiny_bookbot right here) put it so perfectly that it feels silly for me to try and restate what they just said. But Piranesi was a gorgeous little novel that made me happy and sad and hopeful and melancholy, and I almost wish it was longer, so I could have spent more time in those halls.
(Title quote by Jorge Luis Borges. Fanart by the sky spoke to me on Tumblr.)