Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I’m seeing plenty of reviews of this book, but I’ll add mine to the mix. I highly recommend it to anyone who needs something a little different and a little escapist right now. It’s a short (too short) novel and one I couldn’t put down once I started reading. It’s one of those rare books I finished and I wanted to start it right over again.

It’s hard to describe, dream-like and other-wordly. It’s definitely strange at first, so give it a little time to get its hooks in.

Our narrator lives in a huge structure that seems reminiscent of ancient Greece or Rome, with marble columns and statues throughout. There are three floors, one on the bottom that floods with the tides, and one on the top that is open to the sky. He’s aware of only one other person in the world, someone he calls The Other. He’s also found a number of skeletons around the house. The narrator doesn’t actually know his own name, but The Other calls him Piranesi. 

Piranesi feels his job is to care for the house and the skeletal remains, and keeps detailed journals to document what he sees, such as the movements of the tides and the actions of the animals. It’s a peaceful life, one filled with nature and art — until The Other tells Piranesi that a third person is coming, and that person is an enemy. 

I won’t tell you more about the story, but I loved being inside the mind of Piranesi, a man who doesn’t know who he is or where he is, but who is content with his place in the world. He’s a clearly unreliable narrator but I loved his sense of purpose, and his mix of logic, strength, and innocence. And Clarke’s descriptive prose will make you feel like you’re there, trapped inside this strange, endless house. Whether you long to escape, or to never leave, is what makes this book so fascinating. 

It’s written entirely in journal form, and that doesn’t always work for me because in normal life, few of us keep very detailed journals. Piranesi is different. It’s also very different from Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, so if that’s what you’re hoping for with this book, you may be disappointed.  I wasn’t. 

One last note is that this book won this year’s Audie award for best audiobook, narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor. I read it as an e-book because I couldn’t get the audio version, but I imagine either print or audiobook is a good option for this one.

  15 comments for “Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

  1. April 19, 2021 at 10:52 am

    Good review–you are right, “It’s hard to describe, dream-like and other-wordly.” Perfect way of looking at it. I listened to the audio and it was excellent. This book was very “out there” for me, but I still loved it. I’m glad you did, too.

    • April 21, 2021 at 6:58 am

      Thanks, I’m glad to hear you loved it too! I was a little worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype, but it did.

  2. April 20, 2021 at 5:21 am

    Ooh, this sounds great – I’ve never read anything by Susanna Clarke, even though Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is on my TBR. I’ve just always been a bit put off by how big it is. If this is shorter, it sounds like it might be a good place to start with her!

    • April 21, 2021 at 6:59 am

      Susanna Clarke only has a few books, but this would be a great one to start with! I hope you like it as much as I did.

  3. April 20, 2021 at 11:42 am

    I loved this book so much! I didn’t realize it won an audio award, but now that you mention it (and say who the narrator is), I want to listen to it! I do want to re-read this book. For a small book, there’s so much to unpack and to think about. Great review!

    • April 21, 2021 at 7:01 am

      I want to listen to it also, and agree with you that it would be perfect for a re-read. Thanks for commenting!

  4. April 20, 2021 at 4:21 pm

    I do want to read this one even though it’s completely different from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (which I totally loved). Great review. 🙂

    • April 21, 2021 at 7:02 am

      Thanks Lark! I hope you love this book as much as I did.

  5. April 24, 2021 at 10:54 am

    Glad you liked it! I completely agree!

  6. April 25, 2021 at 4:35 am

    Not sure about this one for me. the premise of this story is intriguing but the journal style is giving me pause for thought.

  7. May 10, 2021 at 5:08 pm

    I loved this one as well! I listened to Chiwetel Ejiofor reading it to me 😉 and it was indeed very well narrated.

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