Cbr13bingo Rec’d, Bingo #8
Susanna Clarke’s novel Piranesi has been reviewed about a dozen times on the Cannonball Read, first by tiny_bookbot and most recently by Debcapsfan. Every review of this book has been 4 or 5 stars. Published in 2020, Piranesi was nominated for the Nebula Best Novel and won the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction. It is an astonishing fantasy novel about the world of the mind and the myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth. I must say that while I thought it started off rather slowly and somewhat dully, it gradually drew me in deeper and deeper until I was completely lost in the story. See what I did there?
Piranesi is the narrator of this story which is set in a world that he describes as being like a house with many halls. He lives alone there except for another occasional visitor, a man he simply knows as the Other. Piranesi is a curious, observant young man who loves this world and all its mystery. He keeps notebooks and an index of the places he discovers in his quest to see and describe this vast world in its entirety. He notes the seas and tides that can flood halls; the birds and fish, whom he treats with respect and awe; and the incredible statues that he has come to know almost as friends. He also takes great care of the skeletons he discovers — 13 of them— trying to imagine who these people were and how they might be connected. He sees himself and the Other as the 14th and 15th people to live in this world, and wonders if there will one day be a 16th person to join him. Piranesi meets with the Other twice per week providing updates on his research, but the Other is not exactly a friendly man. He is interested in Piranesi’s work, but he doesn’t seem to know or love this world as Piranesi does. The Other occasionally makes useful gifts to Piranesi, such as notebooks and shoes, but he is preoccupied. Piranesi reveres him and considers him a friend.
As the story progresses, Piranesi makes some startling discoveries. One day, another person appears who seems to know about this world and about the Other. Piranesi thinks of this person as The Prophet. The Other then begins to grow concerned that “16” could make an appearance soon. While Piranesi is initially delighted by this news, the Other quickly disabuses him of the notion that 16 is a friend. This person is their enemy, sent to drag them toward madness. The Other makes Piranesi swear that if he should encounter another person, he will NOT communicate and will instead find the Other, who will try to kill 16. Piranesi finds this alarming but implicitly trusts the Other and tries to follow the directives he receives from him.
The tension mounts as 16 draws nearer, trying to leave messages for Piranesi, and as Piranesi begins to look back in his journals. There, he discovers entries that he made but that he does not remember or understand. This fantasy novel is a brilliant story about the world of the mind and ideas. Not only does it hark back to the story of the Minotaur and Labyrinth but also to Plato’s Theory of Forms. While that might sound a bit esoteric, Clarke makes this story quite exciting as Piranesi pieces together the information he has discovered and as he prepares for a great flood that is scheduled to hit the world within a week.
Piranesi is a delightful surprise of a book. As I mentioned, the first part, in which Piranesi is viewing and describing his world, was a bit slow. It is, however, important to the rest of the story and to understanding Piranesi himself. This would be great for a book group or in a psychology or philosophy class.