Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.


What is Piranesi about?

Piranesi is about a character named Piranesi who lives within an elaborate and magical home. The House as he calls it gifts him with the ability to sustain himself, and he in turn learns its ways and documents it meticulously. The Other also resides in the house, a mysterious man whose friendship with Piranesi hinges on a search for some great knowledge the Other believes the House contains. As Piranesi begins to doubt the Other, the book turns into more of a mystery than magical realism.

Genre: Magical Realism

Piranesi’s House is a seemingly different world, or perhaps part of our own. It operates by its own weather and oceanic system, and has seemingly endless halls and staircases and statues. It’s a magical place, and the way Piranesi describes it is for sure magical realism.

Tropes: Unreliable Memory

The trope that is used most often is that of an unreliable memory. At times Piranesi doubts his own ability to recall his life, and events within it. He also doubts the Other’s ability to remember things.

Plot: Cultish Activity

Yeah okay so this book takes a turn that I wasn’t expecting. It features what is arguably a cult, and definitely touches on some disturbing cult-like behavior.

The Good

I whole heartedly appreciate Susanna Clarke’s writing style. Her use of descriptions, the way she ignores certain rules and makes her own, and her characters are all captivating. I enjoyed the House and its ways, and I found a lot of what Clarke included in the story unique and interesting. She really is a master at magical realism! I also enjoyed some of the surprise twists the plot took along the way, especially the revelations about the worlds.

The Okay

I really wish we’d learned more about the cult, the different worlds, and all that stuff. While I understand that to Piranesi this isn’t as interesting–and thus he only learns enough to tell us a little bit of what’s going on in reality–I found the parts about the cult the most interesting. Learning about how different people traveled into the world, how there was so much speculation about how it was all faked when it was all real, that was the best part of the book.

The Bad

At no point….did I really care about Piranesi. I didn’t dislike his character, and I didn’t want him to fall to any harm. But I didn’t care about his internal struggles or his exploration of the House. I didn’t care about him doubting the Other, I didn’t care about his wants or desires. I just wanted to find out what was actually happening and I felt hindered by the choice in main character. The world was ultimately more interesting than the people in it, and since the world was explored from such a limited perspective it made the story drag for me.

Final Thoughts

Compared to previous experience with Susanna Clarke, this book was a big let down. While her tremendous skill at writing shines through, and her magical realism creates some awesome imagery, the story just falls apart. The characters were uninteresting, and I didn’t care about their struggles or thoughts or feelings. I would have much preferred to read this book through journal entries that were unfeeling, rather than the constant feelings of Piranesi. I found that much of the narrative was only half-baked. The ideas formed around the cult were presented and tantalizing, but never finished. And those were the only parts of the book I found really solidly interesting, leaving me wanting for much of my reading experience. From a writing perspective, I think this book had a few more edits and a bit longer in the writing process to go before it should have been wrapped up and released.

By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

2 replies on “Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke”

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