Ahoy there mateys! Though the First Mate and I have very different reading tastes, occasionally we do recommend books to each other. Books the first mate introduced to me included xom-b, holes, and the perks of being a wallflower. He and I both read the following:
piranesi (Susanna Clarke)
We read and talked about the book and I enjoyed his viewpoint so I
ordered asked him to write a review. So you get one from me and a bonus additional review from me crew. Please note that I write like I talk and the first mate writes like he thinks. Hope you enjoy!
From the Captain:
My five star reads transport me into another world. I lose meself in experiencing the story and this was one of them. I was excited to read this book because I loved jonathan strange and mr. norell. And so I went into this one blind hoping for magic. I got it. I feel like the setting of the book is real. I want to visit and not just read about it. I would talk about plot and character but to say more would influence the reader learning about it for themselve. Arrrr!
Side note: I will say that as I am not a visual person, viewing the art of Piranesi before reading intensified the enjoyment
From the First Mate:
It feels gluttonous and ungrateful to say that I was expecting more from Piranesi, but that was my feeling throughout and ultimately upon finishing it. It’s well written, has a fascinating world, several very intriguing characters, and wraps up its plot in a mostly satisfying manner. And yet the experience of reading it felt as though I was experiencing something incomplete; that I was getting only a shadow of what was there. What I got was beautiful and very enjoyable, but it felt like something more was just out of reach.
Piranesi is told in first person narration from the eponymous character and it is a delightfully weird narration. He describes the House that he lives in, the other people in it and how he takes care of them, and his important work that he’s doing with his only friend, the Other. Due to some of the aspects of the world that he lives in, many of Piranesi’s memories and thoughts are a bit mixed up. While he believes himself to have a perfect memory and he keeps a very detailed journal, we soon come to learn that things in this world may be more complex than Piranesi has made them out to be.
There are a couple of longish passages where events in the past are explained, giving us just enough detail to know how the various characters arrived at where they are but little more. Many of the glimpses of the past (and especially some of the secondary characters) are absolutely fascinating and I kept hoping we’d come back to them but never did. We soon get an understanding of what is actually going on and then the plot swiftly moves towards its finish. I kept expecting there to be some twists along the path to that finish, but it played out in a pretty straightforward manner. Straightforward bound within the perspective of a delightfully weird narrator, of course.
Thematically the novel touches on the nature of identity, what constitutes friendship and trust, and finding one’s balance in the world/situation one is placed in. There’s some examination of the benefits of confinement and limits. There’s even a pretty good bit in there examining abusive academics and how it doesn’t matter if they’re smart or even 100% correct about the world because their abusive actions are still abuse. All very worthwhile themes and weighty topics, and the novel certainly made me think about them.
Clarke has said that she pursued writing Piranesi instead of the Jonathan Strange sequel that she had been working on due to her ill health. Her chronic fatigue illness has made writing a novel similar to her previous work impossible. When I read about her struggles I felt so horrible for her. And then, of course, I felt so horrible about wanting more from this book that I did truly enjoy. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Clarke to know the expectations that come from following Jonathan Strange and say, “I don’t have it in me to write that now” and still be able to write something compelling and beautiful like Piranesi.
Highly recommended to fans of odd narrators and weird worlds. Avoid if incompleteness enrages you, as there are many paths left unexplored here.
Side note: There is a fantastic Guardian article about Clarke and Piranesi but it is full of spoilers so should only be read AFTER reading the book.
Goodreads has this to say about the novel (shortened by me):
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 . . .
Piranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.
To visit the author’s website go to:
To buy the novel visit:
To add to Goodreads go to: