Friday, 29 April 2022

Piranesi, Susanna Clarke

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We meet Piranesi in the depths of a mythical feeling world, the House, in which his only companions are birds, statues, and the Other, a man he meets a couple of times a week but who doesn’t seem to know the surrounds as thoroughly as Piranesi. Indeed, he is the one who named him Piranesi, who knows it is not his real name but can’t remember what is. The Other also seems to have access to a lot more resources than Piranesi - using something that appears to be a smartphone or tablet, wearing quality clothes, and seemingly having provided a sleeping bag and fish fingers for one of the thirteen dead. Prianesi, on the other hand, satisfies himself with using seaweed to mend things and fishing for sustenance. Despite his meagre, solitary existence, Piranesi is largely quite content. He keeps a thorough journal and records data for the Other. He even creates a sort of religion for himself, looking after the remains of the dead and bringing them offerings. 

The opening fifty pages or so are quite baffling, with Piranesi’s way of keeping track of time and naming the halls being long and unwieldy (e.g. the eighteenth day of the fifth month in the year the albatross came to the south-western halls). Piranesi’s own obliviousness to the reality of his existence leaves the reader similarly unaware, but curious and constantly coming up with theories. As the story unfolds and things begin to become clearer both the reader and Piranesi start to uncover the truth. It is dark and unpleasant, but Piranesi manages to maintain an optimistic, caring outlook.

The Other seems intent on unsettling him, claiming that there is one more living in the House but that they wish them both harm, that if Piranesi so much as talks to them he will descend into madness. As much as the reader doesn’t know who the Other is or what his intentions are, you feel that he is not really looking out for Piranesi. He appears largely indifferent to him except when it comes to this person, nicknamed 16. Piranesi’s innocent trust in him can be difficult to read as he naively follows his instructions and makes it harder for himself to discover the truth.

The characters are interesting, and the drip feeding of information is tantalising. It puts you on an even footing with Piranesi - you are not given any information that doesn’t come to you through him, yet it is likely you’ll approach the events with a greater degree of suspicion. Piranesi is kind to a fault, continuing to try and protect those who have harmed him, although that might have more to do with Stockholm syndrome. His story examines the ways people cope with trauma and hardship, and his attachment to the House feels realistically drawn.

A book with an unreliable yet endearing narrator. Reading this will enter the reader into a strange and mind-bending world in which you will find yourself constantly questioning. Somewhat difficult to get in to, once it hooks you you won’t want to put it down.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting review and wow fifty page opening. I think that's a little too many for an opening. Don't you think?

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    1. Other people might have got into it faster than me to be fair. It's an interesting book and definitely worth the initial effort.

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  2. Great review! This sounds like a really interesting read, I love books with unreliable narrators and I like that the information is drip fed through some fascinating characters in this one. Thank you so much for sharing!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by. It was definitely an interesting read, and a fun one to read with friends as you all try to figure out what's happening.

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