'Piranesi' - Book Review

by Susanna Clarke
2020, 245p., Bloomsbury Publishing

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is - despite its substantial length (or perhaps even because of it to some extent) - one of my favourite books. So I was eager to read Clarke's next novel. Which, it turns out, is completely unlike Strange and Norrell. This is both disappointing and probably a good thing.

Our narrator lives in an immense and possibly infinite house full of statues. "The House" has very large rooms on three levels: clouds occupy the upper level, and the sea runs through the lower level. There are a lot of birds, the sea is full of fish. There are the bones of a few previous occupants, but our narrator and "The Other" are the only two living human occupants that our narrator knows of. The Other calls our narrator "Piranesi," but he doesn't feel that this is his name. As time passes, we learn about his life - and he realizes that The Other isn't as reliable a source of information as he'd hoped.

I can't discuss the book much more without getting into spoilers, which I won't do. I found the slow revelation of the true circumstances to be both interesting and something of a let-down. It's an interesting albeit minor twist on the fantasy genre, and sadly nowhere near the equal of Strange and Norrell (although not by any means a bad book).

"The Gothic Arch" by Giovanni Battista Piranesi - Princeton University Art Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43465966

pen(?) etching of 'The Gothic Arch' by Piranesi