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.