I am going to open my review candidly and say that I thought this book was excellent. The evocation of character, the way things are revealed, the culmination of the book – I thought that it was masterful. Piranesi was a really good read and this was a surprise to me, which made it all the more sweet.
I have encountered Susanna Clarke before with her bestseller Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell which I attempted to read some years ago and had to abandon it because I found it so tedious. I tried, willing it to capture me but it never did and so, I gave up. This is not a regret of mine at all. However, it did mean that I started reading Piranesi with a fair degree of wariness and, I am ashamed to admit it, with a view to being disappointed.
But it is not disappointing at all. Far from it. The book is set in a strange other worldly setting called the House where our eponymous hero is based. The House is open and near the sea as it is regularly washed by tides and Piranesi has attuned himself to these, performing calculations to predict them and he applies this level of logic to everything around him, including his mapping of the House. To the reader, it would seem to be an austere, cold place, the only inhabitants being birds and the statues that adorn the Halls. Piranesi does have one other human contact who he names the Other, who meets him on specified days to converse and quiz Piranesi.
Clarke does a wonderful job of presenting this world through the eyes of Piranesi. It initially means that your perspective is narrow but this gradually expands, along with Piranesi’s knowledge, nuggets of information being carefully dropped at just the right pace throughout the book.
I loved the evocation of the House, which to me felt like a huge Greek temple and the way that Piranesi navigates it with his naming of different aspects. There was so much that was unique about this novel that you must experience it for yourself. It’s a bit bizarre and it takes a little to get into it at the very start as you work out where you are and what is going on but this is part of its appeal, or it was for me.
I can’t recommend it enough.